Spadework, by Timothy Findley
A rare bargain…
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Story blurb: Lust. Infidelity. Betrayal. Murder. On a summer evening in Stratford, Ontario, the errant thrust of a gardener’s spade slices a telephone cable into instant silence. The resulting disconnection is devastating. With the failure of one call to reach a house, an ambitious young actor becomes the victim of sexual blackmail. The blocking of a second call leads tragically to murder. And when a Bell Canada repairman arrives to mend the broken line, his innocent yet irresistible male beauty has explosive consequences.
In Spadework, Timothy Findley, master storyteller and playwright, has created an electric wordplay of infidelity and morality set on the stage of Canada’s preeminent theater town. In this fictional portrait, intrigue, passion, and ambition are always waiting in the wings. Findley peoples the town with theater folk, artists, writers, and visitors (both welcome and unwelcome), and with lives that are immediately recognizable as “Findley-esque” – the lonely, the dispossessed, and the sexually troubled.
A story that ripples with ever-widening repercussions, a sensual, witty, and completely absorbing novel, Spadework is another Timothy Findley winner.
About the author: Timothy Irving Frederick Findley (October 30, 1930 – June 21, 2002) was a Canadian novelist and playwright. He was also informally known by the nickname “Tiff” or “Tiffy,” an acronym of his initials.
He was raised in the upper class Rosedale district of Toronto, attending boarding school at St. Andrew’s College (although leaving during grade 10 for health reasons). He pursued a career in the arts, studying dance and acting, and had significant success as an actor before turning to writing. He was part of the original Stratford Festival Company in the 1950s, acting alongside Alec Guinness, and appeared in the first production of Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker at the Edinburgh Festival. He also played Peter Pupkin in Sunshine Sketches, the CBC Television adaptation of Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town.
Findley’s first two novels, The Last of the Crazy People (1967) and The Butterfly Plague (1969), were originally published in Britain and the United States after having been rejected by Canadian publishers. Findley’s third novel, The Wars, was published to great acclaim in 1977 and went on to win the Governor General’s Award for English-language fiction. It was adapted for film in 1981.
Timothy Findley received a Governor General’s Award, the Canadian Authors Association Award, an ACTRA Award, the Order of Ontario, the Ontario Trillium Award, and in 1985 he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. He was a founding member and chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada, and a president of the Canadian chapter of PEN International.
Review by Gerry Burnie
As you can readily see, I went looking for Canadian content this week, and it doesn’t get any more Canadian than the late and lamented Timothy Findley.
Originally published by Harper Collins in 2001 (a year before Findley’s death), Spadework by Timothy Findley is set in the otherwise quaint little town of Stratford, Ontario [home of the Stratford Shakespearean Festival], and is primarily told from the point of view of Jane Kincaid, a southerner from Louisiana. She left the south to escape her conservative-minded family, and also adopted an new persona when she met her husband, Griffin Kincaid.
Griffin is a hunk, and also a rising young Shakespearean actor. Otherwise, they lead quite an ordinary, suburban life, with an ordinary house, a kid, a live-in housekeeper/nanny, and a dog named “Rudyard.”
Nevertheless, Griffin’s ‘hunkyness’ is the catalyst that gives rise to a number strange (bizarre) events. Jane begins to suspect other women might be coveting him as well: principally Zoë Walker, his on-stage partner.
Meanwhile, one of Jane’s former boyfriends shows up to jerk off all over her face and dress, and then goes out to be killed in a car accident. In addition, the town is stunned by the shocking rape and murder of two women by an addict, Jesse Quinlan, who (because he cannot reach his support in life, his nephew Luke – the gardener who severed the telephone line) he goes on a drug-fuelled rampage until he takes his own life. And, if all this wasn’t enough, Jane receives a cryptic letter from her mother to say her sister has recently committed suicide.
In some way lack of communication figures into all these events, but the crucial stroke comes when the gardener Luke inadvertently plunges a spade through the main communication line. Thus, his uncle Jesse has his meltdown, but, in addition Griffin cannot reach his director, Johnathon Crawford, with his answer to an ultimatum – the ultimatum being that he either enter into a sexual relationship with Crawford or lose out on a coveted, leading role.
The result is that he loses out, but he agrees when he is offered a second meeting with Crawford.
Meanwhile, a veritable Adonis of a telephone repairman has arrived on Jane’s scene, and in no time has agreed to pose for a nude portrait.
Lack of communication and sexual desires figure prominently in this novel, but in spite of the resulting chaos things do settle down with a return to a happy ever after ending.
Findley’s prestigious awards speak for themselves. He was a brilliant writer, and there are flashes of this in Spadework, but considering that it was published so close to his death I cannot help speculating there might have been other things on his mind.
It’s only a hunch, but this, his last novel, seems rushed to me: As though finishing it was the overriding priority.
Mind you, it is still a good read with all of Findley’s intricate plot twists present, and for the embarrassingly low price of .01¢ you can hardly go wrong. Three bees.
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Theatre Orillia is a community based theatre company located in Orillia, Ontario – the setting of Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Small Town. As is not usual for community theatres, it could use a helping hand, financially. If you would care to be a theatre ‘angel’, just navigate to the following URL: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/886814721/theatre-orillia-summer-season-2015?ref=email.
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