Wednesday, June 29, 2005


The approaching night’s dusk was naturally balmy and visibility, considering my waning but once impeccable night-vision, was marginal. Ed Broadbent crosses us on the left as we wire up the thoroughfare toward the House of Commons and the Peace Tower. Inexplicable to us at the time is the medium-size crowd assembled expectantly outside the doors of the Commons—Canada Day celebrations this Friday on the Hill, obligatory stage set-up with large T.V screens and alternating-ly grating lights; maybe the crowds are out early? No—something else entirely.

Man with familiar gait walking towards us surrounded by burly minders and two or three photographers as well as a cameraman who navigates backwards adeptly, like he’s practiced this many times. “I think it’s Paul Martin” my roommate says. Not believing him I raise my hand almost wryly, straining my face with an incredulous smirk, as though offering an affected greeting. “Hello. How are you doing Mr. Martin?” I say. A voice very similar to that of Prime Minister Paul Martin replies. “Fine Thank you. How are you?” Double-taking five or six times, I’ve just realized I was in the presence of the Prime Minister.

And then this realization: How is it possible that I, a common citizen, should be any where that close to the PM? Shouldn’t he exit through the back, possibly? (Indeed he has nothing to worry about; although I have Johnsonian foot speed, my slight upper body can be restrained with very little effort.) So the PM passes five feet from where I stand.

Get on the cell-phone to make self-aggrandizing calls to family and friends, I miss Belinda Stronach pass by me. “She's very attractive” says the roommate. The pastel green power-suit is enveloped by the night, a pate of blond ambition disembodied.

And in order of appearance Joe Vople, Pierre Pettigrew (“Ca va? Il dit. Je dit “Bein”) Hedy Fry, a man who at first appeared to be a chauffeur but on further reflection was house speaker Peter Milliken, Anne McClellan (Big round of applause), Gilles Duceppe, Stephen Dion ( a Quebecer beside me grudgingly confirmed this.) and Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler. Apparently, the same-sex marriage legislation passed in the house; therefore, interested parties were out to congratulate and celebrate.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Corrections

The word good would be an incredible understatement. In fact, the word excellent would seem a slight of the first order. (I’m overstating it, I know.) These were but a few of the initial thoughts that came to mind when I endeavored to write a review of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, an ambitious novel about family, depression, and our attempts to reconcile expectations and their resulting outcomes.

Set in the fictional Midwestern suburb of St. Judes (Franzen grew up in St. Louis) Franzen introduces the reader to the Lambert family and then begins to construct a series of clever, internal narratives around them: Alfred, the patriarch, is now approaching the winter of his life and is debilitated by the mental atrophy of Alzheimer’s and the corporeal rapaciousness of Parkinson’s; The mother Enid is preening, aspiration-al, and sometimes exacting, though more in a endearing than harsh way; Gary, the first child, is the fulfillment of his parents expectations, the vice president of a Bank, father of three and responsible to a clinical degree; Chip is the middle child struggling to find his moorings after losing his professorship at an Ivy League college for sleeping with a student—he’s the intellectual without a clue; Denise being the youngest child is the emotionally impassive uber-striver who seeks and is rewarded, continually, her father's approval, while, at the same time, staking for herself a life that appears an affront to Enid’s pedagogy.

Alfred and Enid arrive in New York to have lunch with their son Chip and daughter Denise—who’s flown in from Philadelphia—before they depart on a cruise that day. What ensues is nothing short of comic genius and, similarly, tragedy. Chip’s life is seemingly falling apart as he escorts his parents from JFK—only to be met at his apartment by his current girlfriend, Julia, who promptly dumps him after being introduced to Chip’s parents. Ever the irresponsible son, Chip leaves his parents in Denise’s care to persue Julia, embarking on a jarring self-assessment that is both neurotic and forlorn, while falling to find Julia. Chip does, however, find his way to the office of a friend of Julia’s and is offered a job that, though it pays well (much better than his not so lucrative job as a proofreader), appears to be criminal. The job is also in Lithuania—and to accept the offer would mean leaving that day. Naturally, Chip leaves. Denise is left to deflect the probing questions of her mother and watch the degradation of her beloved father.

Franzen then takes the narrative thread to alternating gears of emotional tone. With Gary, we are led through the psychological travails of a man so willing to embody the picture of refined domesticity that his very abiding becomes pathological. He begins to believe that his wife and children are conspiring against him—are driving him to a depression of their own construction. Gary’s wife Caroline is an emotional potentate (this is what I gather) who is adamant—after eight consecutive Christmas of not visiting Enid and Alfred in St. Judes, to Gary servile dismay—of not even considering going this Christmas'—even if it may be the last Christmas the Lamberts have together, even if her lack of compromise is pushing her husband closer and closer to this constructed depression.

Enid and Alfred’s narrative is more comedy than Gary’s grating supplication. Alfred was once a paragon of moral life, self-denying, modest, and truthful. Since his retirement, which was days before his pension was to kick-in (this being incomprehensible and unexplained to Enid) Alfred has wasted away in the basement, off with his own diminishing thoughts. Enid has always been denied the Alfred she hoped she would have when they married: The caring Alfred; the expressive Alfred; the kind Alfred; the, once in a while, sexually attentive Alfred. Her life has been that of a subject to Alfred’s Schopenhauer-ian will. And so the excess of her energy has been devoted to raising her children. And now that this may very well be their last Christmas together in St. Judes, she wants all of her children home for the holidays. Enid is easily my favorite character; she’s full of foibles and neurosis and traffics in a populist, Midwestern charm.

The most intriguing narrative, though, is that of Denise Lambert. I had difficulty keeping my mouth closed, as my jaw kept coming ajar. Not that the lesbianism wasn’t appealing; nor was the lifestyle she led unremarkable. Denise Lambert was singular as a character, touching and at times harsh, strong yet milquetoast. She was without humor but the situations she found herself in were humorous. And that filial love for her father anchors much in her life—it also portends other tectonic revelations.

The Corrections, needless to say, starts off furiously, eases comfortably into the middle, becomes intellectually intriguing during Denise Lambert’s narrative thread, and tidies up well—Franzen’s pacing and tone a touch of methodical mastery. Apparently it took him five years to create this Magnus opus, and at just over six hundred pages Franzen’s style makes the novel incredibly readable; even-though, at parts, it’s a complicated read, it is still very lucid.

Will the Lamberts be together for one last Christmas? Read the book and find out.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal who so surreptitiously endeavored to entrap Minister of Health Ujjal Dosanjh in a qui pro quo for his, and his wife’s, support of the Liberal budget bill has suddenly taken a leave of absence(follow the chronology)—due, we are led to believe, to stress. Understandably, the stress and growing dread of being found out as a fabricator of tape recordings you earlier alleged to be proof positive of Liberal corruption and influence peddling would be enough to make even the fiercest political animal retreat. Now that the entirety of the recordings have been released—a full four hours!—a number of independent experts say that portions have been doctored. But why the suspicion?

It took Mr. Grewal, with the sage advice of his party it is assumed, over two weeks to release all of the tapes; initially, only a tendentious hour and thirty minutes were released—of which, predictably, reflected poorly on Mr. Dosanjh and Mr. Murphy, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff.

And now even his wife, Nina Grewal, has distanced herself from the matter by saying “Nobody approached me, I wasn't part of any negotiations.” Mrs. Grewal is also avoiding the press, choosing to leave her office in the East Block through the back doors. Calls to her riding office are being directed to her husband’s office, who is away on leave.

Stephen Harper doesn’t need this. After the Liberals passed their budget bill (more work still needs to be done in committee) whispers about the fate of Stephen Harper’s leadership were soundless, out of respect, but various. Then Tapegate or Grewalgate, what have you, prefigured a grave outcome for the Liberals, insofar as Grewal’s allegations were true. Even if it were the case that the tapes proved ambiguous on the question as to who initiated the meetings, Liberal involvement carried its requisite stench of impropriety.

During this time Harper was strong in his fulminations, and with good reason: the tapes appeared to implicitly convey the Liberals attempt to buy Mr. Grewal’s vote, along with his wife’s.

At the very least it has now been proven that the tapes were doctored, and, as they were in Mr. Grewal’s possession this whole time, questions surrounding his motives have arisen. Mr. Grewal’s leave of absence is only evidence of the doubt Stephen Harper has on the matter. The truth may still lie somewhere in the abstracted middle, but for Stephen Harper and the Conservative party the perception isn’t helpful.