Leonard and I

Leonard and I were both born in Canada’s province of Quebec. He arrived, in this incarnation, on the autumn equinox of 1934, in the well-to-do Montreal suburb of Westmount. He was almost 2 when I was born in poverty in the wooded hills of the Eastern Townships.

He said he was “the little Jew who wrote the Bible”. Jesus was the only Jew I met until I was 12. He wrote me love songs, although we never met. He never did bring “my groceries in”. If I didn’t drag them in myself, an athletic mathematician did, a man quite unlike Leonard. Since loving me mandated at least tolerating poetry, Mr. Math learned to. He even wrote me a poem once, and was willing enough to go to Greece because Leonard had made me love it from afar.

Leonard, with a poet’s intuition, passed in his sleep after a fall on the night of Nov. 7th, the day before Donald Trump was elected president of Leonard’s adopted country. He had proclaimed earlier that “Democracy was coming to the USA”. I’m not saying he was wrong, just that his prediction may have been more complicated than it seemed.

Besides being born Quebec-ers (although not Quebecois), we shared an enduring depression. Leonard indicated later he had defeated it by becoming a Zen monk for five years. Kudos to him. My own excursion into Taoism did not prove as efficacious. I hope that Buddhism enabled him not to rage against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune: the loss of his wealth to a larcenous business manager, the necessity to start touring again in his 70’s, the ‘unbearable’ pain of leukemia, and the inevitable losses of old age.

Personally, I am bitching mad at old age. I don’t have unbearable pain or a deadly disease (so far as I know). Of course, I don’t have Leonard’s companions either. He said the ladies had been very kind to him in his old age. Recently, two of the major problems in my immediate family have been resolved, I have published my mystery Hour of the Hawk, (joycehowe.com) I have a secure if modest income and a warm, safe place to live.The problem is that being pissed off actually makes my health problems worse.

I had a grandmother who lived to be 96, but apparently I learned nothing from her role model.

So I put in my earbuds and listen to Back on Boogie Street – not his own song but Sharon Robinson’s; he sings backup. I’m still on Booogie St. Got to market this book. Got to keep my head straight. Got to drag the groceries up to my tower of .. whatever. Coming up to 82, could l have my Nanny’s long-lived genes? Then I listen to ‘Hallelujah’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEWqDE20O3U
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrLk4vdY28Q

Youth and beauty and ecstasy are not lost. They are there, ingrained, embedded, as alive in me as any mournful loss.

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The Crying Chair

This is the crying chair. It sits in my entrance way on a tiled floor. Good rocking there and tissues at the ready.

I saw it first at Christmas 1960 when I dragged my extremely pregnant body upstairs to my mother-in-law’s attic. She was storing it for a friend, but I could have it to rock the baby, temporary loan.

It was cream colored then. At some point, my husband painted it antique green. (When was the era of antiquing?) During a desperate teachers’ strike, our house became the place for coffee break. Deep winter. Constant arguing. Months of poverty. My two children unschooled as well, of course. To avoid insanity, I carried it down to the basement and stripped the paint off and oiled it. I loved the chair. It saved me.

I rocked my large self in it through most of a dark January 1961. When she arrived, my daughter, like her mother before her, cried. If she had cried for Canada, she would have won the gold. My father slept with his foot out of bed rocking my cradle. I rocked her in the big, comfortable chair.

Her brother arrived a year later. By then his sister was noshing on pureed food, so her colic had cleared up. Anyway her real live doll-brother made her so happy, she didn’t need to cry. He, in turn, was fascinated by her -his own non-stop performance artist/teacher, and calm by nature. Still I rocked them both before bed and at teething time, one on each knee, singing every song I knew including ‘House of the Rising Sun”

Some nights, however, I cried as I sang. Their father taught day school, night school, took night courses and tutored on Sunday. We had dinner together. That was it. A quiet, tasteful time, full of conversation. No. Two babies who needed to be fed while Daddy tried to sort out the evening lesson plan.

I had studied English & Philosophy and Drama. I was the only female survival in the Logic class by third year. I had two years of teaching English under my belt as well as teacher training. I had subdued 50 hormone-ridden grade 10s in a classroom with 48 seats. Now I was washing six dozen cloth diapers twice a week.

I started reciting Shakespeare as I bathed the kids together in the big tub.

Eventually, my husband intervened. “What would you do right now, if you could do anything?” he asked. “Put on my navy suit,” I said. “Where would you go?” he asked. “Cedarbrae Collegiate,” I replied. “You want to go back to teaching,” he said.

How could I? It was 1963. My job was to nurture these priceless babies. It just wasn’t done. But before we got up from the grey card table that functioned as our dining surface, we had the plans underway. We would hire a nanna, carefully vetted. I would get a job easily. Populations were booming and my clever husband could stop working all the time. My terror and relief could be soothed only by more rocking those bigger and bigger babies.

The rocking chair went with us to a new house. We were now making almost $12,000 together. It was an ideal place for growing children, a hill, with a flagpole and a martin house, wilderness, gardens, fences and eventually a pool. There were parks galore and a very high cliff above Lake Ontario for risking young lives. Not that we worried. They had bicycles. They had each other.

The rocking chair sat in the corner of the rec room beside the sliding door and in front of the fireplace, which any of the four of us could choose to light. Nanna kept it swept free of ashes.

Then the crying chair came back into its own. I was the one in it. It was 2 a.m., where was my husband?

The chair and I set out on our travels. Sans the others. We moved to Heyworth Ave., to Main St., to Fishleigh Dr., to the town of Zephyr, to Mississauga, to Evans Ave., to Stephen Dr. and back to Mississauga. I can picture where my chair sat in each of these places. All except 3 had my name on the deed. One had my sister’s and two I signed leases for. A good deal of rocking and crying went on in those 40 years.

Meanwhile my ex-husband had lost his much younger wife to cancer. He had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer the same year, 2010. We welcomed him back into the family at Easter 2012. (“Should of stuck with the old girls,” my sister greeted him cheerily.

He and I had lunch last week. A two hour lunch tires out this 82-yr-old retired teacher, but he seemed to want to come to my 14th floor suburban apartment. We did have to talk over a few details concerning his estate. There have been no bad tests recently but…

I pointed out the crying chair. This sent him into a reflective mood. He always cried easily-just maybe not over me. Intimations of mortality can bring that on. He regretted our son had not continued his painting and sculpting. I thought that a youthful art career is like a teen-aged rock band. Most people grow out of it.

Hubby, for example had chosen math and physics, over art. Even got to work with a nuclear reactor. (Is that significant?)

Anyway, grief is always the same, not so much about loss as the f-ups that we regret.

So the chair waits invitingly, inevitably.

Feel free to drop by and cry until you’re done.

 

 

 

Kindle and the Red Top-Down (The Hawk flies again)

So the red top-down went missing. It wasn’t as if I could call the police. Not that I had left the keys in the ignition. The trouble was it was an imaginary 1963 red MGB. I found it  myself in the word document titled Hour of the Hawk v.8 for Vellum, put it back where it belonged between Chpt. 4 “Too Many Kids” and “The Sitter” which had got promoted to Chpt. 5. O.K. done!

But no!!! One hundred and four people had already downloaded my mystery Hour of the Hawk. (joycehowe.com) Without that clue-filled chapter, they wouldn’t understand the vision of the car at the bottom of the cliff. They wouldn’t understand why Xiao Yu ended up in a mental ward. They wouldn’t understand why Joanna Hunter’s life was in danger. They would think I was a terrible writer or that they were stupid.

Both J. and M. went for the latter. Thank God, C. who had listened to me talking about the plot, said, “Do you describe the flood?” OMG. Of course I do. Where was it?

That was Sunday, Dec. 31.

I don’t want you to think I did all this calmly and quietly. I could barely remember how to turn the computer on, and I wasted a good deal of time staring at the Kindle upload page, which I could not now comprehend. I felt as if I had never seen it before.

I shook of course. I had a dry mouth. My fingers blundered.

Well, that’s what got the red MGB lost in the first place. As I went through the Vellum version the umpteenth check, I saw the heading “Chapter Five”. It didn’t need to be there. Right below it was “5. The Red Top-Down”. I went to the tools and clicked “hide in book”. The tool did its job all too well. I didn’t. I didn’t do one more sweep as I should have.

At first, a KIndle employee, K, working late on Sun, New Year’s Eve, answered reassuringly, saying they would review the change and if it was a serious error, they would forward a link to buyers so they could get the chapter.

Serious, yes, serious! I shot back.

On New Year’s Day, I bought new versions for 5 friends I knew had downloaded it. Kindle wouldn’t let them “buy” the book twice. Somehow I managed to get myself and my sister, Georgia, the updated version. I e-mailed the chapter to the others.

The terrible thing was, except for C., they hadn’t missed it.

Then I waited. Not quietly. I sent Kindle ever more hysterical e-mails. A. responded with increasing empathy. Once she used the word ‘noble’. No, strictly venal. But it was up to K and the Star Chamber that would examine the book for quality.

It was a quantity problem, I replied.

Publishing a book, like giving birth, is a jarring experience. What was once a comforting inner presence is now out there in the world causing problems. I cried at any and all TV shows. Talk about baby blues.

Finally last night, I lost it. I wrote an e-mail lamenting my destroyed reputation and subsequent breakdown. I felt as if I were praying to an absent God. But still I was careful.  You don’t want to piss God off too much. Then I went to bed and read Fire and Fury – on KIndle.

This morning, dear heaven, I got an e-mail. I had passed the audition. Word would go out to all 104 readers telling them how to get a new version.

Vellum is a formatting program, recommended by Joanna Penn in her blog. “Why I changed from Scrivener to Vellum.” It formats your book in about 10 seconds in 8 different formats, including Print On Demand. It’s way too easy to use. See above.

Oh, my children used to call our green 1963 MGB the top-down.

 

Canadian Cold Front Moving Nowhere

Our cold water pipe froze. Water pipes are freezing across Canada. People are trying to thaw them with blow torches. Houses are catching fire. Fire hose water is freezing as it hits the air.

When I say “our”, I mean the residents of the 15 storey building I live in. Holy suddenly-cold-shower, Batman! Holy no-water at all!

“Can’t they prevent that?” my sister Georgia demands.

“Personally, I have never had any luck with preventing it,” I reply.

So, yes, I have had pipes freeze, but not in December, not at Christmas. The end of January, yes or the middle of a bad February. Not when my festive duds are lying ready for a freshly showered me.

I have a rule. Stay in until supplies run out. If the wind-chill is -30 C. (-22 F) make do. If it’s only -20 (-5 F) go for it. It’s -20 right now. I really do need to get to a store.

The wind is rattling my windows here on the 14th floor and moaning in under the door to the hall. I wear a woolen tuque when I go down for my newspaper. A heavy hoodie goes without saying.

One day last week, Toronto was colder than the North Pole. Ottawa, was the coldest capital city on earth that day. New Year’s Eve was basically cancelled, although some hardy soul lit the fireworks anyway.

Still never confuse weather with climate, as Georgia told me just now. She lives 3 lights west of me. We’ll get together again around Easter.

(I know I’m a softie. It gets down to -40C on the prairies. I put it down to history. Some of my ancestors came over to the Plymouth Colony on the Hopewell in 1634. The Mayflower arrived in 1621. I should be hardier. But I grew up in a farm house with one wood stove and snow drifts inside the windows.)

 

Excerpt from the beginning of Hour of the Hawk: joycehowe.com

The whole thing started at breakfast.Sitting at the table, I could see the cyclists on the bike path, and people walking their dogs. My laptop was lying to my left, waiting for me as I strip-mined the newspaper for information. It was the beginning of May. The maple trees lining the road had a green mist.

Spring north of Lake Ontario is a little taste of heaven. We sigh and let go of the winter scowls that warded off frostbite. We lift our faces to the long lost sun. For however brief an interlude, it is warm. It isn’t freezing like the Arctic or sweltering like a Florida bayou.

Who’s your Psychopomp?

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As for qualifications, I have camped on the south shore of the Gulf of Corinth at the mouth of the River Styx and crossed it several times. So have all the other residents of Akratas. No that won’t do. (The Ancient Greeks believed that Charon, the boatman ferried them across the River Styx to the Underworld. They were buried with coins on their eyelids to pay him for his service.)

As a child, I was shut in boxes. Maybe that was my early training.

At a certain point in my life, the recently dead started turning up, usually sitting in a chair in the corner of my bedroom. Just sitting. Never talking. Or in my dreams, they phoned me, never saying anything sensible and never answering questions. My father’s spirit persistently offers advice such as ‘Buy lottery tickets’. He was a villain on earth, but he has spent 30 years on the other side and seems to be a reformed being. He even shows up at hospital bedsides to comfort those he once harmed. So they tell me.

Somewhere along the line, my family started to assume that I was a conductor of the dead, a psychopomp. They didn’t use that word of course. It is not a role I aspire to. At the moment, for example, I have a recurring image of a man who has passed over, but doesn’t believe in the afterlife. He is huddled in a fetal position with his ears covered, pretending he is not conscious. I repeat the 23rd Psalm to comfort him and, alternately, offer to give him a swift kick.

I’m not religious at this point, but I remembered that comforting song of David, and thought it might help – Josh, let’s call him Josh. If you feel inclined, you could join me in your own way, encouraging him to “Wake up! Wake up! It’s not so bad. You really are forgiven.”

When I uploaded my e-book, Hour of the Hawk, Amazon called ‘psychopomp’ a spelling error. An aberration, a delusion, perhaps, but not a spelling error.

Creating my main character, Joanna Hunter, I saddled her with that ‘ability’ as well as a conscience which speaks to her in her great aunt’s voice, admonishing her to fulfill her duty.

Her first duty is to attend to Tom Braddock who has been mauled to death, in his own backyard, by an angry bear. Well, of course an ‘angry bear’. He would hardly have been killed by a grateful, happy bear, even though he did persist in feeding his bear friends honey in a tire swing. And the bear had good reason for being angry, although not necessarily at Tom.

There are other deaths. It’s a murder mystery after all. But those Departed have enough imagination to manage on their own.

As you will, no doubt, when the time comes. Just be sure to cure yourself of the idea there is a hell. Pretty sure we are doing our stint there, right here on earth. Like my father we may have much to learn in the afterlife, but as a school it’s much more like Play Mountain Place than the boarding school Prince Charles attended. It seems to me, the afterlife can be whatever you think it is. With night school courses in empathy.

For heaven’s sake, don’t call on me to guide you.

To purchase Hour of the Hawk as an e-book go to joycehowe.com. It will be available as a paperback from Amazon in January 2018.

 

Should You Hunt a Doppleganger?: Redhill’s Bellevue Square

Trinity Bellwoods, the model for Bellevue Square

In Michael Redhill’s Bellevue Square, Jean Mason decides to track down her double/look-alike/doppleganger. One of the customers at her bookstore reports he has just seen Jean with shorter hair and in different clothes in Toronto’s Kensington Market. He reacts violently when she denies it, and, eventually is found hanging in his apartment. He’s not the only one who sees the double and ends up dead.

Jean sets out on a quest to find this other woman, who’s name is apparently Ingrid Fox, and who, it turns out, is a mystery writer.

I felt almost uniquely qualified to understand this book. (Not quite unique because my reading partner, Georgia, has the same sort of qualification.)

I can intentionally look at my image in a mirror, but if I inadvertently catch a glimpse of myself, I have to avert my eyes instantly because that’s not me I’m seeing. If I keep looking, I zone out or become dissociated. It’s as if the image is hypnotizing me. And, yes, I have had therapy. I have discovered hidden parts of me, particularly one – D, who led a life I didn’t remember. Not a very fun-filled one. A sober cult-ish life devoted to foretelling the future and trying to keep other cult-ish people out of trouble. With pretty much zero success! Knowing the future apparently does not change behavior.

Once I discovered D’s existence, I still had a long way to go before we got integrated enough that I stopped getting up in the middle of the night and putting on robes.

One thing I always knew was that I couldn’t just get rid of her. I had been assured that I was not psychotic -at great expense- but I always sensed that I could become mad if I tried to cut off D. or any of her lesser sisters.

Jean has a somewhat different problem, autoscopy. Something is wrong with her brain, somewhere between the temporal lobe and the ear. (There are several people with damaged brains in the story, oddly in the same area.) This disease causes sufferers to externalize their self-image.

In an effort to achieve integration (my interpretation), Jean begins neglecting her bookshop, her two sons and her ex-policeman (or actual police chief) husband Ian to search for Ingrid. She does this by sitting in a park, Bellevue Square, where Ingrid has been sighted. There she relates to the park’s habituées – eccentric, drug-addled, mad but lucid and just plain mad.

But she doesn’t find Ingrid. Not until the end of Part 1, when Katarina, who sells pupusas in Kensington Market and was the second person to report the doppleganger is shot. Jean is the main suspect. Only then does she spot Ingrid crossing the park. As she follows, Jean wonders if Ingrid is “the harbinger of her death”.

Then we discover Jean is actually a university lecturer who has vanished from her classes, and her husband, Ian, seems to have a problem with her owning a bookstore.

Things get weird. Jean has a mirror experience: she sees herself but she’s not in the room. While she gets closer to Ingrid -entering her home and making a gorilla sandwich for Ingrid’s daughter, and discovering Ingrid has a boo-boo in her head – she gets farther from herself. Finally, she ends up in a hospital bed, coming out of unconsciousness.

My reading partner, Georgia, said initially that she must be too stupid to understand the book. Then as we talked, she hypothesized that everyone besides Jean was really Jean. Even Jimmie, whom she breaks out of CAMH, the mental health clinic, and who goes with her on a long hazardous flight to a northern woods. There he seems to abandon her and she finds herself more than ever lost.

Obviously, the book is about identity and fluid identity at that. Jean is following breadcrumbs in a quest for herself. Does she succeed? Maybe the next book in this three part series Modern Ghosts will tell us.

I am a little worried about Michael Redhill, considering what happens to Inge Ash Wolfe in the novel, since that is his pseudonym when he writes mysteries. Maybe he just integrated Inge and Michael and all will be well with one author identity.

Bellevue Square must mean something. It won the Giller prize of $100,000. Perhaps Georgia, D and I aren’t up to the job after all.

Full Disclosure: Initially, I published Never Tell, my e-memoir, under the pseudonym of Joyce Hood, as I did this blog. I have reverted to Joyce Howe, now that all the cult-ish types are either gone or toothless.

Coming soon to an Amazon near you Hour of the Hawk, a mystery by Joyce Howe

 

Where Did You Go Joe Dimagio?

Have you had the experience of meeting someone after years apart and feeling that no time has passed. You start up your friendship right where you left off, all those years ago. Me too.

I went away a year ago. Part of the reason can be found in my last post. I was about to lose my decade-long home. The other reason can be found in my Dec. 15, 2015 post, Getting the Hawk off the Ground. The picture said it all. I had to rewrite my mystery, Hour of the Hawk.

I last posted in Sept. 2016 – A Gold Finch This Morning. I had just finished reading Donna Tartt’s book The Goldfinch, and had been greatly heartened by her description of terrible depression, my own default setting. It had made me laugh, horrible though it was: it was so dead on.

“This was a plunge encompassing sorrow and revulsion far beyond the personal: a sick, drenching nausea at all humanity and human endeavor from the dawn of time.” (863/1427- on my iPad). Theo goes on to enumerate all the futile actions we indulge in -playing, working, having babies, redecorating, reading restaurant reviews…

Happily, I can report I am not homeless, although I am writing this in my favorite Starbucks. My resourceful sister took me in hand, announcing that I needed to live near her and her daughter because of my advancing age. Any day now, apparently, I will need a zimmer frame and a tag pinned to my coat, giving my address and saying, “If found, please return.”

Georgia lives in Mississauga, a suburb west of Toronto. I had lived there 15 years before. As a young married woman, I had lived in Scarborough an eastern suburb. I had already done my time in suburbs

But Toronto rents for a one-bedroom were $900 to $1000 more than I was paying for my two-bedroom, rent-controlled home. In Mississauga, we found a one-bedroom on the 14th floor for only $500 more. The library, recreation center, pool and park were one long block away. And I could count on invites to dinner every week.

So I moved, got rooked by the movers, lost things – some didn’t make it onto the truck, some unpacked by others- I had to get niece to come back and find the battery box, and just generally lost my mind. Getting groceries from my car and up to my eerie flummoxed me. Ditto doing laundry on the ground floor. My muscles took turns seizing up. I discovered that reading in bed not only helped with that, but had the additional benefit of a floor to ceiling window on life in the burbs: a major thorough fare, two schools, parkland, a community of houses and the front door of the building.

I hated it. Of course I did. I could see all the way to Lake Ontario and, on a clear day, half way across. I wasn’t God. Why would I want to do that?

I wanted my green old neighborhood with the crazy Polish woman next door, who persisted in thinking that I understood her rapid Polish, and had the ability to influence my landlord. I missed the maples and the deer that lived in the oak savannah next to the river. I missed the kids on the other side of my house. I missed the “girls” upstairs. I could hear all 4 of them in my place.

In the new place I had a wood burning fireplace. I had a gym on the penthouse floor and a sauna. In the brief summer I had an outdoor pool. I got to go to house parties where beautiful African Canadian and Muslim children softened my heart. I was in a minority. Let’s just say that Donald Trump would not approve. Even the province of Quebec in my own country would look askance, although we have no burkas, just a lot of very colorful hijabs and African prints. The West Indians and Haitians fill the halls with lilting English and distinctly un-Canadian French. And, of course, I got to go to dinner two blocks away.

Well, okay.

I got the place in order eventually, sat down at my desk in front on another floor to ceiling window, and pulled up version 7 of Hour of the Hawk. It was as usual, completely silent in my tower. And warm. Did I say warm? Those windows face south

Version 8 coming up.

Next post: Getting the Hawk off the Ground 2017.

 

 

A Goldfinch This Morning

goldfinch

MAY TRIGGER DEPRESSIVES.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/17/goldfinch-donna-tartt-review

I borrowed an e-book version of Donna’s Tartt’s The Goldfinch from the library. (Still pretty amazed I figured out how to do that, but a rent crisis made it necessary.) This morning, I arrived at 870/1427. In this passage, the protagonist Theo Decker, who suffered a terrible loss when he was 14, as well as a remarkable, if dodgy, gain, is now 26. He decides to wean himself off his drugs of choice, Oxycontin 80s, et al. These enable him to carry on a successful life, whereas alcohol, his father’s drug, or heroin would not. So he says. (This does not reflect the views of the writer who has trouble with 100 mgs of Sertraline.) The physical withdrawal is bad enough, but after that comes the DEPRESSION.

“This was a plunge encompassing sorrow and revulsion far beyond the personal: a sick, drenching nausea at all humanity and human endeavor from the dawn of time.” (863/1427- on my iPad). Theo goes on to enumerate all the futile actions we indulge in -playing, working, having babies, redecorating, reading restaurant reviews…

Elsewhere I have confessed to a black sense of humour. I embrace Beckett’s advice to a young writer, “despair young and never look back.” except I tend to apply it to life in general. So these few pages cheered me up and made me laugh.

My 80 yr-old-body had hobbled out of bed this morning with full awareness that today more strangers would file through my apartment. Eventually, one of them would buy the triplex. Very likely, they would then evict me. My place is the only unit renovated. The only available apartments are $200-800 more than mine. (We’re having a really big real estate boom in Toronto.) I try to remember that “in my father’s house there are many mansions”, but getting into those seems too radical altogether.

So I’ve been ruminating on divorce, recession, illness, housing bubbles that burst, and those that haven’t yet. But this despondent passage in Donna Tartt’s book was so beautifully written that I didn’t care.

Goldfinches, especially painted ones, do not have voices like nightingales or mockingbirds. They twitter as they swoop, parentheses of bright flashing light.

 

The Octogenarian Hobbit

NOv oaksNo, I’m not 8-sided, but this Septuagenarian Hobbit passed a milestone on Cinco de Mayo. I’m not hairy-footed either, although I do enjoy a second breakfast, and I prefer to stay in my cozy home. Two years ago, I found myself traveling and away from home for months on end to be with ailing relatives. The Septuagenarian hobbit whined about that, despite the beauty of the two places I found myself in – the Kern County, California mountains and the elegant city of Brussels.

Now the octogenarian has a new cause for complaint. My landlord is selling my house.

How can that be? I have lived here ten years. I have poured over $135,000 into their account. I’ve replaced burned out bulbs in the hallway and swept the rugs clean. I diligently reported plumbing issues. I bought my own kitchen tap.I was the one who discovered the flood in the basement. I provide post-dated rent checks from a guaranteed pension income. I can’t be fired or laid off, although it is true, I could become deceased.

Sounds like a back-up plan.

Every house in Toronto, no matter how ramshackled is now worth $1,000,000. I have in my time “owned” four of these million dollar domiciles. The last one I sold during the ’95 real estate bust. I lost about $80,000 and came away with just enough to buy a leather couch. I had badly wanted to buy a Cuisinart as well, but I ran out of money.

No,no, don’t start crowd funding. My son’s mother-in-law found one at a garage sale. Her daughter gave it to me.

img_0100-1I absolutely love my first floor apartment in an Etobicoke triplex. You can see why. I love knowing that deer are sleeping in the woods above the South Humber River. I love the sparrows that flock in the backyard. I love the maples and the oak.

The house has been for sale for three days. I stayed for the first three showings. They were all looking for family homes, in other words, my home. It is the only fully renovated unit. True the new owner has to give me two months notice, so the earliest I could get the boot, considering a one month closing, is Dec. 31st. What a lovely idea! Jan. 31? How could I get so lucky?

There are apparently very few duplexes in the area. There is a species of low rise apartment buildings, without elevators, with rusty balconies and roadside Saturday sales of second-hand clothes. And, of course, mile-high condos that are way out of a pensioner’s league.

There are bidding wars on properties for sale, but there are also bidding wars on rental units. In the front foyer, the upstairs women and I agree: we can’t afford to live in Toronto.

Should we jump ship now? Should we rent a house together? Should I take another Lorazepam?

Meanwhile, showings scheduled 24 hours ahead are cancelled less than an hour ahead, or scheduled just when it’s dinner time, or before we are ready to crawl out of our PJs. I’d go on but I’ve got to take that pill and wash the dishes before the next showing,

Ian McEwan: Nutshell (NY Times review)

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Ian McEwan Credit Urszula Soltys

With “Nutshell,” Ian McEwan has performed an incongruous magic trick, mashing up the premises of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and Amy Heckerling’s 1989 movie, “Look Who’s Talking,” to create a smart, funny and utterly captivating novel.

It’s a tale told by a talking fetus who’s a kind of Hamlet in utero — a baby-to-be (or not-to-be, as the case may be), who bears witness to an affair between his mother, Trudy, and his uncle Claude. This adulterous pair are plotting to kill the baby’s father, John. Can the narrator prevent this murder — or later exact some sort of revenge? What will happen to the narrator should his father be abruptly dispatched to heaven, and his mother found out and sent to jail? And what do these depressing developments portend about the world into which he is soon to be born?

Mr. McEwan’s narrator is one well-spoken, highbrow baby (a kind of less diabolical Stewie from “Family Guy”), who possesses all the verbal gifts of his creator (Mr. McEwan, not Trudy or John) and the sophistication of a 21st-century member of London’s chattering class — thanks to eavesdropping, from the womb, on the podcasts and “self-improving audiobooks” his mother is fond of. He is thrilled by Joyce’s “Ulysses,” prefers Keats to most modern poets (“Too much about the self, too glassily cool with regard to others”) and worries a lot about things like climate change and nuclear proliferation. Thanks to Trudy’s love of fine vintages, he’s also something of a wine connoisseur with a taste for Sancerre.

Like his 1998 novel, “Amsterdam,” “Nutshell” is a small tour de force that showcases all of Mr. McEwan’s narrative gifts of precision, authority and control, plus a new, Tom Stoppard-like delight in the sly gymnastics that words can be perform. The restrictions created by the narrator’s situation — stuck inside a maternal nutshell — seem to have stimulated a surge of inventiveness on Mr. McEwan’s part, as he mischievously concocts a monologue for his “almost child” that plays on “Hamlet,” even as it explores some of his own favorite themes (the corruption of innocence, the vulnerability of children and the sudden skid of ordinary life into horror), familiar to readers from such earlier works as “The Child in Time,” “The Children Act” and his 2002 masterwork, “Atonement.”

The narrator understands – or thinks he understands — the three legs of the adulterous triangle around him in very clear terms. John is a not-very-successful poet and small-time publisher — kindly, impoverished and eager to please, persuaded by his pregnant wife to move out of the ancestral manse because she needs a little “space.” Trudy is a manipulative green-eyed beauty who has fallen out of love with John and fallen in lust with his “priapic, satanic” younger brother, Claude — a dimwitted real estate developer and first-class dolt who “knows only clothes and cars.”

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Credit Patricia Wall/The New York Times

As time passes, however, the narrator begins to wonder if things might not be a little more complicated than he first surmised. Has his father been having an affair with Elodie, a pretty young thing who writes poems about owls? And why does his dad seem to have so little regard for him, his soon-to-be-born son? For that matter, what does Trudy plan to do with him once he is born; will he simply be given away or put in foster care?

“Nutshell” cleverly takes its title from a line in “Hamlet”: “Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space — were it not that I have bad dreams.” And the novel is brightly studded with allusions not just to “Hamlet” but also to “Macbeth,” “Lolita,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” Montaigne’s essays, Dante, Nietzsche and Kafka. Mr. McEwan’s little homunculus is, by turns, earnest, mocking, sarcastic, searching and irreverent, especially when his mother has had several glasses of wine and he’s reeling from a contact high. He worries about being contaminated by Claude’s sperm when his uncle is having sex with Trudy. And he tries giving his mother a strong kick when he wants to remind her of his existence.

When he isn’t trying to piece together Trudy and Claude’s nefarious plans, the narrator spends a lot of time musing about the state of the world outside “the bouncy castle” that is his temporary home. How can commentators declare that it’s “dusk in the second Age of Reason,” he wonders, when there are “commonplace miracles that would make a manual laborer the envy of Caesar Augustus: pain-free dentistry, electric light, instant contact with people we love, with the best music the world has known, with the cuisine of a dozen cultures”?

On the other hand, “Europa’s secular dreams of union” are threatening to dissolve “before the old hatreds, small-scale nationalism, financial disaster, discord.” While poverty and war are “driving millions from their homes, an ancient epic in new form, vast movements of people, like engorged rivers in spring, Danubes, Rhines and Rhones of angry or desolate or hopeful people, crammed at borders against the razor-wire gates, drowning in thousands to share in the fortunes of the West.”

It’s preposterous, of course, that a fetus should be thinking such earthshaking thoughts, but Mr. McEwan writes here with such assurance and élan that the reader never for a moment questions his sleight of hand. At the same time, his unborn Hamlet’s soliloquy leaves us with a snapshot of part of London that’s as resonant as the portrait of the post-9/11 world he created in his “Mrs. Dalloway”-inspired novel “Saturday,” a snapshot of how a slice of the privileged West lives — and worries — today.