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Letters in Canada 1985 With this first appearance of 'Letters in Canada' in the Fall issue (as opposed to a fall appearance), we must say farewell to some valued contributors. John Astington, who has provided the annual section on Drama for several years, is leaving to become editor of Modern Drama, and we wish him well in this importanteditorial undertaking. Jerry Wasserman of the University of British Columbia will be taking his place. We are also losing Kathy Mezei, who has been doing the section on Translations, H.-Martin Rumscheidt, who has handled the review of Religion, and Lizette Jalbert, who has worked with Jean-Fran~ois Leonard on Les Etudes sociales. We thank them for their generosity and their expertise. We also want to welcome Jean-Cleo Godin, who has provided this year's Theatre section. As we indicated in the Winter issue, we think that the new publication schedule for 'Letters in Canada' will allow it to function more efficiently for both readers of the journal and contributors. (THA) Fiction 1 1 MARK LEVENE The winner of the Books in Canada and W.H. Smith award for the year's best English-language flrst novel, Wayne Johnston's The Story of Bobby O'Malley (Oberon, 190, $12.95 paper) is perhaps the most accomplished and appealing work of fiction of 1985. A gracious and subtle comedy about a boy's apprenticeship, it also typifles much of the new flction published this year: in its formal traditionalism, its gentle humour, its fascination with continuity, and above all its stylistic skill. For the same reasons the novel is a testament to the culture out of which it comes. Johnston has given the essential shape of his character's experience an antique lineage: the parents are sharply divided in temperament, and the sensitive boy strikes out on his own, leaving both the island and the call of the priesthood. Yet this pattern possesses a splendid freshness and immediacy, as well as a degree ofintellectualresonance.The drama here is one of mood, the initial slapstick humour increasingly giving way to a UNIVBRSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 56, NUMBER 1, NOVEMBER 1986 broadeningsense of grief. In afamily where time is measuredbyblockages in the septic tank - 'We talked about two tanks ago, and planned two tanks ahead' - Bobby O'Malleyis driven neither byanger nor by the sheer compulsions of rebellion. The father flushes his family memoir down the toilet, but Bobby's narrative moves beyond a burlesque gesture towards impermanence and becomes a tribute to his parents in their loss of each other and a bemused, sad acquiescence in his own loneliness. He sketches his mother in tones of mild dismay and perpetual sorrow. The only lay teacher at an all-girls school, she is self-righteous yet oddly dignified in the triviality of her judgments and preconceptions. With only a geographical and historical interest in sex, she drives her husband into the awkward arms of Harold's Mother and always seems to be crying. 'There was often about the house the kind of silence that early darkness can create, winter Sunday silence.' But the novel's range of feeling comes more from Bobby's father, a weatherman prone to 'hindcasts: to 'fantasy forecasts: who ultimately discovers in death 'a good thing.' He is the source of Bobby's joy and of his recognition of mortality. Avoiding low pressure troughs, he slides down the stairs, first with Bobby, then with Harold's Mother, and theorizes'that babies are born with astronomically high IQS: but 'as they grow older, their IQS gradually begjn to slide so that, soon, their once-great minds are in free fall.' Bobby sees the affair with Harold's Mother as 'not very nice: but out of respectful envy delays and disguises his traumatic reaction: he develops nightmares, 'hagattacks : and understands the frightened distance of his school friends. 'Who could blame them? A twelve-year-old demon-possessed genius with aspirations to the priesthood was not my idea of good company, either.' Butthe family's genial energy, the delight taken in such moments as Bobby's beingconvinced that prophylactics are covers for altar candles, even the friendliness in the mother's...


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