Gerry B's Book Reviews

We Pointed Them North: Recollections of a cowpuncher by E.C. “Teddy Blue” Abbott and Helena Huntington Smith

A rollicking tale of true adventure, and perhaps the first admission (ever) of male love in a cowboy’s own story

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we pointed them north - coverE.C. Abbott was a cowboy in the great days of the 1870s and 1880s. He came up the trail to Montana from Texas with the long-horned herds that were to stock the northern ranges; he punched cows in Montana when there wasn’t a fence in the territory; and he married a daughter of Granville Stuart, the famous early-day stockman and Montana pioneer. For more than fifty years he was known to cowmen from Texas to Alberta as “Teddy Blue.”

This is history, as told by Helena Huntington Smith, who says, “My part was to keep out of the way and not mess it up by being literary.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

When I come across personal reminiscences of this nature (“We Pointed Them North: Recollections of a cowpuncher” by E.C. “Teddy Blue” Abbott and Helena Huntington Smith, drawings by Nick Eggenhofer, University of Oklahoma Press, 1955) I am immediately envious of my cousins south of the border because they have yet another window into their past.

Unfortunately, apart from Norman Lee’s journal [see: Norman Lee Klondike Cattle Drive,” Touchwood Editions, 2005] I am unaware of any other first-hand account(s) of Canadian history that is/are currently: a) published, and b) still in print. I would be happy if someone were to correct me on that statement, but alas I doubt it will happen. Therefore, with each generation that passes our Canadian pioneer experience becomes more and more obscure. Therefore, I have the greatest admiration for Abbott and his patriotic notion to leave a legacy behind for our appreciation.

The early years 

We Pointed Them North is without a doubt the most candid, and thereby the most ‘credible’ of any similar accounts I have read thus far. However, this is a personal observation to be taken for what it is worth. Nevertheless, by his own admission young Eddie Abbott was a bit of a free spirit—even a ‘renegade’ in his formative and teenage years. He attributes this, in part, to having an overbearing father:

“I never got on with my father and never pretended to. He was overbearing and tyrannical—and worse with me than with the others … And I resented it. But I got back at him. I remember one time the butcher wanted to buy some beef, and my father was going to cut them out of the herd for him, and he asked me to give him a horse. So I caught up little Pete, my cutting horse, for him … Father had rode all his life on one of these flat English saddles, and he thought he was a rider … And when he rode into the herd and started to cut out a steer, and the steer dodged … of course Pete turned right out from under him and left him on the ground.” 

The other part was from growing up around the rugged Texans who came north with the very first cattle drives. As Abbott points out in clarifying the record, the cattle drives as we know them only lasted from about 1870-1886, and were almost completely gone by the 1890s. He also points out that the cowboy packin’ a gun on each hip was mostly a Hollywood embellishment.

“I punched cows from ’71 on, and I never yet saw a cowboy with two guns. I mean two six-shooters. Wild Bill carried two guns and so did some of the other city marshals, like Bat Masterson, but they were professional gunmen themselves, not cowpunchers.” 

Nevertheless, Abbott carried a gun from the time he was fourteen, and even shot a man in a mêlée of drunken cowboys shooting out gas lamps. However, it was his contention that a gun was a necessary tool in frontier country. It enabled a man to protect himself against all manner of threats; to shoot food and signal if lost; and to avoid a robbery, etc.

The adventurous years 

If Teddy Blue’s ‘hellion’ years had any benefit at all, apart from sewing his wild oats and gaining a reputation as a ‘wild one’—which he was immenselyproud of—it enabled him (at age nineteen) to take his place among some of the toughest crews on the trail. Among these were the Olive Brothers:

“The Olives were noted as a tough outfit—a gun outfit—which was one reason I wanted in with them. It would show I was tough as they were … They were violent and overbearing men, and it taken a hard man to work for them, and believe me they had several of those all the time. 

Men had to be tough considering the life they led. Abbott describes one situation where they were camped near a large prairie dog ‘town’ when a big storm came up that resulted in a stampede. In the morning it was discovered that one of the men was missing, and a search was made.

“We found him among the prairie dog holes, beside his horse. The horse’s ribs was scraped bare of hide, and all the rest of horse and man was smashed into the ground as flat as a pancake … [T]he awful part of it was that we had milled [the cattle] over him all night … And after that, orders were given to sing when you were running with a stampede … After a while this grew to be a custom on the range, but you know this was still a new business in the seventies [1870s] and they was learning all the time.” 

That was not an untypical circumstance for a teenager in the 1870s. Imagine, if you will, asking today’s counterpart to give up the BMW for a horse, or his TV remote for an evening of chasing a stampede! Yet, for the most part—and almost entirely in Canada—the rugged contributions of these pioneers are all but forgotten.

Life was not all hardship, however, for the average cowpoke played almost as hard as he worked. One episode that Teddy Blue relates took place at a ‘parlor house’ owned by a Mag Burns:

“Three of us was in the parlor of Maggie Burns’ house giving a song number called “The Texas Ranger.” John Bowen was playing the piano and he couldn’t play the piano, and Johnny Stringfellow was there sawing on a fiddle, and I was singing, and between the three of us we was raising the roof. And Maggie—the redheaded, fighting son of a gun—got hopping mad says: ‘If you leather-legged sons of bitches want to give a concert, why don’t you hire a hall? You’re ruinin’ my piano.’ 

“So I got mad, too, and I says: ‘If I had little Billy [his horse] here’—well, I told her what I’d do to her piano. And John Bowen said: ‘Go and get him, Teddy, go get him.’ … I went across the street and got Billy … and rode him through the hall and into the parlor … And as soon as I got in the parlor, Maggie slammed the door … and called the police. 

“But there was a big window in the room, that was low enough to the ground , and Billy and me got through it and got away. We headed for the ferry on the dead run, and that is the origin of the story that Charlie Russell [noted artist and writer] tells in ‘Rawhide Rawlins,’ about me telling that jack rabbit to ‘get out of the way, brother, and let a fellow run that can run.’ I got to the ferry just as it was pulling out, and jumped Billy a little piece onto the apron. The sheriff got there right after me and he was hollering at the ferryman to stop. And the ferryman hollered back at him: ‘This fellow has got a gun the size of a stovepipe stuck to my ribs, and I ain’t agoing to stop.’” 

In his time Teddy Blue also socialized with some legendary characters synonymous with the Old West. These included Charles Russell—already mentioned—who ranks with Frederick Remington as one of the West’s most outstanding artists; “Wild Bill” Hickock, for whom Teddy Blue worked for a while; also Teddy Roosevelt, later President of the United States; and Martha “Calamity Jane” Canary-Burke. Perhaps not as well known was Granville Stuart whose DHS spread was one of the largest such operations in Montana. He was also known for leading a pack of vigilantes that brought swift justice to a number of cattle rustlers and horse thieves in that frontier country.

Teddy Blue was a great admirer of Granville Stuart’s, and even more so of his pretty, young daughter Mary, whom Abbott married in 1889.

Another side of Teddy Blue … A male lover, perhaps?

One of the characteristics I particularly admire about Teddy Abbott is his candour. Not once does he back off, or back down from ‘telling it like it was.’ For example, he describes himself in his younger days as “A damn fool kid.” And with regard to his first girl, “I was a fool on a list of fools.” Therefore, I believe he truly meant to convey the fact that he had a male lover at one point in his career, i.e.:

“And there I claimed this young Indian, Pine … He was one of the best looking Indians I ever saw, six feet, one or two inches tall and as straight as a string. And he was brave—he fought for his knife—and I was sure stuck on him. 

“We all ate there [Rose station on the Northern Pacific], while we was waiting for the train I handed Pine the grub and water first, but he always handed them to the chief. And after they had eaten they all wrapped up in blankets and laid down on their stomachs and went to sleep. And so did I—right beside Pine. [166] 

“While they [the Indians] were all in jail, I went to see Pine ever day, and took him presents of tailor-made cigarettes and candy and stuff. And I told him I’d get him out of it, and luckily he did get out of it, and he was my friend for life. The last day he took a silver ring from his finger and gave it to me.” [167] 

Moreover, he casually relates that he and some of his girlfriends exchanged clothes and paraded around Miles City for a lark. Such an example can be seen in the above photo of him–wearing a woman’s bonnet–with Calamity Jane in the background.

In conclusion

Considering that Teddy Blue was relating all this to Helena Huntington Smith in 1938-39, including the ‘Pine episode,’ it speaks volumes about this truly delightful character; one of the last of a kind, and for that reason I highly recommend it as a rollicking read and a slice of endangered history.

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February 26, 2010 Posted by | Contemporary biography, Non-fiction | 5 Comments

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

A classic by an iconic master of observation, narrative skill, style, wit and humour

[Now a major motion picture by Tom Ford, starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore.] 

Review by Gerry Burnie. 

How do you go about reviewing Christopher Isherwood [“A Single Man,” Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1964, Vintage Classics, 2010] without the urge to genuflect at the beginning of each chapter? Answer: You don’t! It is somewhat similar to reviewing E.M. Forster, or perhaps Charles Dickens. To comment on Isherwood’s strengths as a writer would be presumptuous to say the least. His strengths lie in each word, times the number of words in a phrase, multiplied by the number of phrases in a paragraph, etc., etc. Besides, having been deceased since 1986 he is in no need of advice from a neophyte like me. Rather, about the most one can do, realistically, is to comment on what can be learned from this acknowledged master of observation, narrative skill, style, wit and humour. 

A Single Man,” considered by many to be his finest achievement, was a daring novel for 1964—the same decade that saw the homophobic ‘Stonewall Inn raid,’ in New York City, 1969. This story depicts George Falconer, a gay, middle-aged British college professor who has recently lost his longtime partner, Jim. It occurred as the result of a car accident while Jim was visiting his parents in Ohio, and to protect Jim’s image George declines an invitation to attend his lover’s funeral. Therefore, he is deprived of even this token closure. 

Left alone in the modest house that Jim and he shared, which is only accessible by crossing a sagging bridge, George now uses this ‘moat’ to defend his lifestyle against the Strunks and Garfeins; representing suburban family values. In this milieu ‘The Girls’ nurture their obstreperous brood according to the latest psychology book; the self-expressing kids run amok; the grown-ups hold weekend barbeques complete with “martoonies” beside the kidney-shaped pool, and the paunchy Mister Strunks can be heard muttering such things as, “I don’t give a damn what he does just as long as he stays away from me.” 

Consequently, overwhelmed by the surrounding common denominator, George is struggling to find meaning in his humdrum existence; a situation that Isherwood ingeniously captures with the opening line, casting George as an “it.” 

“That which has awoken then lies for a while staring up at the ceiling and down into itself until it has recognized I, and therefrom deduced I am, I am now. ‘Here’ comes next, and it is at least negatively reassuring, because here, this morning, is where it had expected to find itself;” [Quotation marks mine]. 

Without addressing the issue directly, therefore, Isherwood nevertheless draws the reader into the depths of despair plaguing his main character; i.e., the purposelessness of his existence. He then proceeds to transition George by way of a sterile freeway to the San Tomas State College campus—passing an equally septic senior-citizen’s complex along the way. Once on campus, however, George starts to feel a measure of regeneration, for suddenly his life regains a semblance of meaning; like an actor stepping outside of himself to assume the role of an alter ego. 

“He is all actor now; an actor on his way up from the dressing room, hastening through the backstage world of props and lamps and stagehands to make his entrance. A veteran, calm and assured, he pauses for a well-measured moment in the doorway of the office and then, boldly, clearly, with the subtly modulated British intonation which his public demands of him, speaks his opening line ‘Good morning!’” 

He also feels some semblance of power as he signs a student card, thus giving some faceless student a bona fide academic identity; for without it the student would cease to exist in the eyes of San Tomas State College; and worse still, in the eyes of the IBM gods that are just beginning to stir in the early 60s. 

Feeling thus re-invigorated he crosses the campus, coming across a tennis match in progress along the way. The sun has broken through the early morning smog, and the two boy-combatants are stripped nearly naked. They have nothing on their bodies but tennis shoes and tight-fitting shorts, the type that cyclists wear, moulding themselves to the buttocks and loins. One is Mexican, representing the growing ethnic challenge to the bastions of Caucasian middle-class establishment, and the other, representing the latter, is blond and beautiful but no match for the darkly handsome, aggressive and cat-like Hispanic. Therefore they are a metaphor, and George observes that the blond boy has accepted the rules and will suffer defeat and humiliation rather than break them. He will also fight clean with an almost un-modern-like chivalry until the game and the cause for which he stands are both lost. Nevertheless, from George’s perspective there is a more immediate and personal outcome: 

“The game is cruel; but its cruelty is sensual and stirs George into hot excitement. He feels a thrill of pleasure to find the senses so eager in their response; too often now, they seem sadly jaded. From his heart, he thanks these young animals for their beauty. And they will never know what they have done to make this moment marvellous to him, and life less hateful … 

George then resumes his role as a college professor, boldly making his dramatic entrance into the classroom where he is now front-stage-centre. It is a role that he is expected to play, and one that he acquits with subtle mastery; lecturing, scolding, amusing and hopefully imparting as well. From his place in the limelight the majority of students are merely an amorphous blur of faces; however, certain students—a handful—stand out as individuals: Kenny Potter being one of them. Potter sits in the front row because he tends to do the opposite of what most people do. George finds himself constantly aware of Kenny, and Kenny seems aware of George as well, but since Kenny also has a steady girlfriend George puts no more significance on it than that. 

Feeling fortified by this up-lift, he next makes a stop at the hospital. He has gone there to see Doris; a former femme-fatale who, like her kind, once thought nothing of openly raiding a gay partnership because “They can’t really be serious …” or “All they really need is a good woman in their mixed-up lives,” and Jim in his insecurity had succumbed to her wiles. 

“I am Doris. I am Woman. I am Bitch-Mother Nature. The Church and the Law and the State support me. I claim my biological rights. I demand Jim.” 

Now this yellow, shrivelled manikin with its sticks of arms and legs was all that was left of her, and George could let it go. Therefore, he quietly affirms his state of being: I am alive, he says, I am alive! His tough, triumphal body had outlived Jim and was going to outlive Doris, too; moreover, it felt good to be alive to dream about dark-eyed, Hispanic seducers and golden-haired Adonises. 

In the same celebratory spirit he decides that he doesn’t want to eat alone that night. He therefore calls the remaining person in this world who still cares; his boozy best friend, Charlotte—“Charley.” At one time they had had a brief affair, and although other relationships had intervened on both sides they had remained friends. Like Woman, however, Charlotte still harboured hopes that they might one day pick up where they had left off. Nevertheless George was used to this by now, and in spite of having to diplomatically manoeuvre around compromising situations he was able to enjoy their times together. The booze helped, of course, and George was feeling no pain by the time he finally left for home. 

Still on a high he decides to by-pass the house to visit a nearby bar on the ocean front; the very bar where he had met Jim looking gorgeous in his WWII sailor’s uniform. It was a neighbourhood hide-away with a long history of make-outs to its credit—mostly of the heterosexual variety, but tonight there is solitary young man sitting quietly at the bar. It isnone other than Kenny Potter, a surprisingly long way from his own neighbourhood on the other side of town. Surprised, George makes contact, and the two of them proceed to get drunk—Kenneth fairly, and George very. In the course of doing so it has now been revealed that Kenny’s choice of this bar was no coincidence; that, in fact, he has made quite a study of George’s haunts and habits, and in response to the question of how he managed to get there he readily admits that his girlfriend drove him. 

George can almost feel the electric field surrounding them. More than anything he wants Kenny to understand it, too; to know what this dialogue is all about. So there they sit smiling at one another, or more like ‘beaming,’ and suddenly the suggestion of a skinny dip is raised—by Kenneth. Ever ready to accept a dare, especially from a radiant, younger man, George agrees through an alcoholic haze. Challenge given and challenge accepted, Kenneth suddenly becomes master of the situation, his physical size dictating the logic of it, and when it appears that George is floundering Kenneth insists that he take George home to recoup. 

It has therefore become quite obviously that this is a flirtation, but George cannot bring himself to say the words of outright seduction; not to one of his students. The rules forbid it, and like the blond Adonis George must play by the rules. Moreover, his years of avoidance have made the idea somewhat of a taboo. Nevertheless he finally passes out, and wakes up in bed mysteriously dressed in his pyjamas. Meanwhile Kenneth has taken off, but his note provocatively suggests that they might have shared an intimate moment together: or is it just a tease? 

“If those cops pick me up, I won’t tell them where I’ve been … I promise!  “This was great, this evening. Let’s do it again, shall we? Or don’t you believe in repeating things?” 

George’s rejuvenation is now complete. However, at this point I will leave it up to the reader to discover how the story ends. Suffice it to say that it is as abstract and as real as the opening line. In other words, it is typically Isherwood! 

February 15, 2010 Posted by | Gay fiction, Gay Literature | Leave a comment

The Cabin: A search for personal sanctuary by “Hap” Wilson

This growing-up account is one of the most inspirational stories I have read, perhaps in all time 

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Click on the above cover to purchase.

Click on the above cover to purchase.

Story outline: One hundred years ago, a young doctor from Cleveland by the name of Robert Newcomb, travelled north to a place called Temagami. It was as far north as one could travel by any modern means. Beautiful beyond any simple expletive, the Temagami wilderness was a land rich in timber, clear-water lakes, fast flowing rivers, mystery and adventure. Newcomb befriended the local Aboriginals – the Deep Water People – and quickly discovered the best way to explore was by canoe.Bewitched by the spirit of an interior river named after the elusive brook trout, Majamagosibi, Newcomb had a remote cabin built overlooking one of her precipitous cataracts. The cabin remained unused for decades, save for a few passing canoeists; it changed ownership twice and slowly began to show its age. The author discovered the cabin while on a canoe trip in 1970. Like Newcomb, Hap Wilson was lured to Temagami in pursuit of adventure and personal sanctuary. That search for sanctuary took the author incredible distances by canoe and snowshoe, through near death experiences and Herculean challenges. Secretly building cabins, homesteading and working as a park ranger, Wilson finally became owner of The Cabin in 2000.

About the author: Hap Wilson has been a wilderness adventurer and guide for over 30 years. A self-taught writer, artist and photographer, he is also one of Canada’s best-known canoeists and the author of several books, including “Canoeing, Kayaking and Hiking Tamagami, Rivers of the Upper Ottawa Valley,” etc. His hand-drawn maps and illustrations were featured in “Voyageur: Canada’s Heritage Rivers,” which won the Natural Resources of America Award for Best Environmental Book. Wilson has also worked as actor Pierce Brosnan’s personal skills trainer in the Attenborough movie, “Grey Owl.” He lives with his wife and two children in the Muskoka and Tamagami lakes district of Ontario.

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 Review by Gerry Burnie

In 1931 two buildings of significance were constructed, so David “Hap” Wilson tells us [The Cabin: A search for personal sanctuary,Natural Heritage Press, 2005]: One was the Empire State Building in New York City; the other, located one thousand miles away in Northern Ontario, was a small log cabin deep in the Temagami wilderness; two disparately different buildings.

“The Empire State Building, pretentious in its almost obscene dimension, the Mammon built on the back of a nation in economic and social ruin, was a crude attempt by politicians to rekindle the faith in a capitalist democracy. The Cabin, on the other hand, was constructed primarily for its owner to escape the nations and tedium represented by such overt and politically motivated initiatives.” 

Thus, from the very beginning of its existence The Cabin was a ‘sanctuary’ of sorts.

In many respects this is a love story. I don’t believe the author intended it as a love story, per se, nor is it written in that style, but nonetheless it is. The ‘lover’ in this case is not a woman, although Lady Evelyn Lake is beautiful, and can be precocious and unpredictable; nor is it a man, although the towering white and red pines and granite-faced cliffs are certainly rugged enough. Rather, it is a whole district called ‘Temagami;’ a primal wilderness-sanctuary approximately 1,906 km2 (733 sq.mi.). In fact, Hap Wilson readily admits that he was “… lured to and seduced by the landscape.”

Inextricably linked with the landscape is the poignant and whimsical Aboriginal account of the creation of ‘The Temagami.’ An account that goes back to a time before time when Nenebuc, the trickster, shot and killed the great snake that turned into ish-pud-in-ong—or Ishpatina Ridge, the highest point in Ontario. Or when he shot and killed the queen of Mishipeshu, the giant underwater lynx, causing a flood similar to that experienced by Noah in the Book of Genesis.

“Metaphorically, I suppose,” says Wilson in his introduction, “this provocative tale of rebirth attempts to substantiate and reconceptualize my own wanderings as a purely abstract approach to life experiences and expectations.” Chaos leads to order—sometimes, if desired.

A more intimate ‘love’ in his life is ‘The Cabin,’ and although its history is more recent, it nonetheless has a heritage that is poignant in its own right.

He first encountered both The Temagami and The Cabin on a canoe trip in 1971, for which he by-passed a permanent illustrating job in Toronto to do so. To those who considered such impulsive behaviour irrational, his parents in particular, he simply chalked it up to the Zen of free-living, and a state of consciousness that allowed whatever to happen, happen. Somewhat turned-off by his father’s workaholic drive to succeed at all cost, which included the family’s spiritual needs, young Hap Wilson rebelled by developing a passion for the wilderness trail and a lack of respect for the material things in life. However, noteworthy is the fact that once he embarked on this unconventional path he stood true to his course against all entreaties to return to the ‘beaten path.’

At the same time he was pursuing his passion to explore the natural world, even if it was out his backdoor, sneaking out his bedroom window to sleep in a woodlot tepee. Mischievous child’s play, you may think, but in retrospect there was a pattern to young Hap’s precociousness. Moreover, there was an unseen purpose that had everything to do with eventually wooing his wilderness ‘love.’

At age twelve he and a childhood friend undertook to build a fort, but not just any fort. His had to be “impregnable,” which meant keeping everyone out, and “… certainly adults.” Therefore, it required a vertical-log palisade with a perimeter of about 200 feet (sixty metres), which, in turn, required dragging upwards of a thousand logs (about 10-feet, 3-metres long) over a distance of a kilometre away. Altogether, it took them over a year to complete it and the accompanying wigwam—complete with fire-pit, bunks and adjustable smoke vent—but complete it they did!

The other challenge that confronted him was ‘the pine tree’—a towering megalithic specimen over one hundred feet tall, and with the remnants of a ladder leading up to the bottom branches, fifty-feet above the ground.

“[T]he behemoth stood there in stark relief, taunting, demanding to be climbed—the view from the top would be nothing short of spectacular. I would put my hand on the first rung of the decrepit ladder trying to build up enough courage to go up, but there was always something holding me back. Always. 

The year they completed the fort he climbed twenty feet up that pine tree.

In the meantime world events were unfolding on TV when the United States government invaded North Korea, and to keep pace with Soviet Russia it had stepped up its A-bomb testing in the Nevada desert. Nuclear snow was falling along the shores of Lake Ontario, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Haight-Ashbury exploded in racial conflict and the Beatles conquered the world with music. It was a world gone mad, and for a now teenage Hap the faith that things would change anytime soon was tenuous at best. His reality therefore was in his drawing and in long walks with his boyhood friend, and in looking wistfully up at the yet-unconquered pine tree.

Now, clearly, a pattern of life was emerging. It included a quest for freedom—away from a dysfunctional family and a political agenda gone awry—as well as a determination strong enough to achieve it. It also included the building of a hide-a-way retreat that was both inclusive and exclusive. However, there remained one last, preliminary hurdle before he could move on. This he achieved when he was fifteen.

“I was strong and determined, but most of all afraid that if I didn’t climb the tree soon I would not have the courage to stand true to my beliefs and aspirations. As to what these were, was not clearly defined for me except that I knew what I didn’t want out of life. And so, one day after much deliberation, while my parents fought, I marched out of the house and climbed the steep hillside to the back of the property, to a place I knew well by this time. Without thinking at all about anything but the tope of the tree and how beautiful life must look from there, I climbed. And I climbed without looking down, without hesitation, tears streaming from my cheeks and with a will of purpose so strong that I must have frightened the demons that sat on every rung of that aged ladder until finally, with uninhibited joy, I reached the first branch of that mother pine and pulled myself into her embrace. 

Thereby, he had an epiphany that saw him rising above his self-doubts and inhibitions to see the path that lay ahead.

Meanwhile, The Cabin was going through a life cycle as well. The original builder, R. B. Newcomb, a doctor from Cleveland, Ohio, had one day quietly murdered his wife and committed suicide, himself. The ownership then passed to his brother, Adrian Newcomb, but by the time Hap Wilson was born in 1951, this Newcomb was then too old to endure the trip to The Temagami, and The Cabin had passed hands several times with each succeeding owner aging like the cabin itself. Therefore, two very different entities were on a collision course; one animate and the other inanimate; one growing in strength while the other aged in need of restoration. Ergo, Hap Wilson’s search for personal sanctuary was coming home.

Very simply stated this growing-up account is one of the most inspirational stories I have read, perhaps in all time. What makes it so is the apparent dedication to principle described therein, even at a very tender age, and the commitment to a set of values in spite of an almost coercive pressure to change. Nevertheless, this might readily be dismissed as shear stubbornness had the author not undertaken to live by these principles as well; tenaciously, sometimes at risk of life and limb, but always moving forward without recrimination or regret.

It made me wonder, as well, how many present-day youngsters would have the same a) ingenuity; b) stamina; c) commitment, or d) tenacity to reach the same level of achievement. Regretfully, I doubt there would be too many, if any at all. Moreover, without hydro or a television set The Cabin would probably be just a pile of decaying rubble overlooking the Trout Pool.

Another aspect of this story that inspires is the fact that it is a first-hand account of a life and times that will never come this way again. As such it is a slice of Canadian history that would otherwise pass into oblivion like virtually countless others have done already. Therefore, there is widely held misimpression that Canada doesn’t have a history beyond John A. Macdonald and Confederation.

For all these reasons, therefore, I urge that “The Cabin: A search for personal sanctuary,” be made part of your reading list, and that of your children.

February 12, 2010 Posted by | Canadian autobiography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

St. Nacho’s by Z.A. Maxfield

Highly recommended as an endearing love story

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Story outline: Cooper has spent the last three years running from a painful past. He’s currently moving from town to town, working in restaurant kitchens, and playing his violin for tips. As soon as he starts to feel comfortable anywhere–with anyone–he moves on. He’s aware that music may be the only human language he still knows. Ironically, the one man he’s wanted to communicate with in all that time is deaf.

Shawn is part of a deaf theater group at the nearby college. Shawn wants Cooper as soon as they meet and he begins a determined flirtation. Cooper is comfortable with down and dirty sex, just not people. As far as Shawn is concerned, dirty sex is win-win, but he wants Cooper to let him into the rest of his life as well.

Cooper needs time to heal and put his past away for good. Shawn needs to help Cooper forgive himself and accept that he can be loved. Both men find out that when it comes to the kind of healing love can bring, the sleepy beachside town of Santo Ignacio, “St. Nacho’s” as the locals call it, may just be the very best place to start. 

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Review by Gerry Burnie

For someone who apparently began writing in 2006, Z.A. Maxfield demonstrates a remarkable level of maturity in almost every aspect of her writing. Her characterization of the St. Nacho’s cantina, delivered in a very few words, captures the essence of a layback “hangout” so familiar to all of us who are reformed barflies like Cooper: the friendly but world-wise bartender; the booze stained carpet and smell of same; and the slightly melancholy atmosphere over all. The ideal setting for a story like this. 

However, where her light really shines is inher characterization of Cooper, a complex mix of a talented and sensitive musician inside a cynical, crusty exterior of his own creation, and a past that he has been putting miles behind in an attempt to outrun it in his mind. Consequently, St. Nachos is just another stop in quest to find ‘nowhere.’ 

Enter Shawn, a profoundly deaf boy who ‘hears’ Cooper’s cry for help above the ‘noise’ that surrounds him, and in response to this Cooper is drawn to him as  drowning man is drawn to a life raft. However the ride isn’t free, for Shawn exacts a price of tender love and affection from Cooper that, given his past, is not easily given. 

So what’s so special about that? Well, for one thing it’s all credibly done, right down to the turmoil that Cooper feels inside; the quandary this presents to Shawn, who with limited communication must coprehend this paradox to move the relationship forward; and the faith one boy has in the other. This requires not only considerable insight, but discipline to pace it all just right. 

The final test comes when Cooper’s past catches up to him in the person of Jordan, his childhood sweetheart, and who ostensibly took the rap for a child’s death that occurred with Cooper in the truck. Once again the characterization of Jordan is remarkably credible as the emotionally arrested ‘adolescent’ grasping for straws in people—particularly a smarmy lay-preacher shopping for souls—and a convenient depository for his guilt. 

The story also holds together remarkably well, except toward the end with the introduction of additional characters who are not so well defined. Moreover, some of these characters, i.e. Mary Lynn the librarian and Bill the cop, don’t fit in comfortably. Moreover, their sudden appearance seems slightly contrived. 

 Nevertheless St. Nachos is an engrossing and heart-warming read from beginning to end, and highly recommended as an endearing love story.

February 8, 2010 Posted by | Gay fiction | Leave a comment

He’s Bewitched by Ryan Field

A campy little story not really intended to be taken seriously, and if read in this context it’s a fun read 

Story outline: Brett Samson is a young warlock who longs to be just like everyone else. His only dream in life is to fall in love with the right man and live happily-ever-after. But he becomes disillusioned with everything when his latest lover breaks off their relationship. Realizing he may never be able to live a normal, mortal life, he takes off on a road trip to Cape Cod in a vintage Lincoln convertible, with his best friend and cousin, Michelle, his outrageous little dog, Tag, and his faltering witch of a grandmother, Eloise. Rhys Phillips, a handsome young man living with a werewolf curse, is hitching to New York to find an alchemist who can remove the curse, when he meets Brett at a small filling station in Maryland. When Brett and his family are forced to spend the night in a small motel because of a flat tire, he and Rhys start out as buddies who are bunking together in the same room. But the next morning Brett wakes up with handsome Rhys pinned to his back, a broken bed frame and sexy bruises on the back of his legs. Brett, Rhys, and the rest of the family, including the remarkable dog, embark on a summertime journey that takes them to the magical tip of Cape Cod, where they all discover the meaning of true love and brilliant erotic romance. They conquer their fears, learn how to deal with a sinister dark witch, and they all wind up finding the normal lives they’ve been craving.

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 Review by Gerry Burnie 

“He’s Bewitched” by Ryan Field (Ravenous Romance, October 2009) is a campy little story, a parody of TV’s “Bewitched,” and I don’t think it was ever intended to be taken seriously. Certainly I didn’t approach it that way. In some respects it is ‘over the top,’ and in other respects I would have liked to see even more camp—i.e. with regard to the aging, somewhat befuddled Eloise—once again a parody of “Aunt Hagatha” (Rita Saw) on the TV version. 

The sex scenes are one of the ‘overdone’ bits in my opinion. Okay, Brett’s masochistic leanings are one thing, but his penchant for gang-bangs is gratuitous, not overly meaningful to the character or story, and repetitious. A few less of these wouldn’t have gone amiss apart from reducing the word count. 

The plot is also somewhat trite with the quest for a magic elixir, dark witches and alchemists, but to give it a complicated storyline wouldn’t have worked. Nothing else about this story takes itself seriously, so a corny cause and ending fits the bill quite nicely. However, even I raised my eyebrows on account of the writer’s interpretation of ‘pure and good!’ 

Personally I found it a hoot. It’s definitely not a Pulitzer Prize contender, and from that perspective I wasn’t at all disappointed.

February 5, 2010 Posted by | Gay fiction, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

   

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