Saturday, July 09, 2011

When Ukrainian Tommy turns commie. No way up but be a Party animal

This last chapter of my novel, The Hat People describes what happens when a weak writer aligns himself with a political family on the Left in Canada. They grow stronger, while he, now dependent, grows weaker.

Chapter Thirty-Six

Days merged into one another. Elliot Jones' checks came every Monday. John would go out for long walks, along Downsview Dells, getting what beauty he could out of the red trees; avoiding the polluted stream which tended to break the spell. Laura and John would take turns every morning, getting David up, changing his diaper, gladdened when dry and dressed, he would troop out into the kitchen babbling and cooing, every so often actually saying a word or two. The family cleaved to itself, with much hugging and touching. They loved each other more now, in a kind of autumnal love generated by defeat. They loved the child, not being able to keep their hands off David, kissing his cherubic face. In the afternoons, they would go to shop or out for a ride in the car. David took advantage of all this. He became dependent somewhat spoiled. Soon the boy had to be constantly entertained, jealous of every moment the parents had to themselves. It was impossible to be doing anything by oneself. David would rip books out of hands or turn television channels. But they loved him and showed their love. Day after day, John, Laura and David. Few friends saw them now, and in any event, John grew afraid to go anywhere alone. Outsiders, cashiers and storekeepers terrified him. Answering the telephone was a frightful ordeal. John took a part time job at the Toronto Star, writing entertainment copy. In two weeks he was fired for sloppiness and inefficiency. He drank little after this. He now no longer recovered from hangovers like he once could. He woke up in the morning feeling drawn. A large intake of alcohol would leave him sick for days. He developed mild intestinal and physical disorders. One day his right ear blew out to the size of an orange. He developed haemorrhoids. His joints began cracking the few times he did anything physically strenuous.

One night, in a depression brought about over still another attempt to drink. To get that old feeling of omnipotence back, John put on his jacket and walked out of the house. Laura and David had been especially getting on his nerves. It was a misty, humid fall night. The warm air hung about his mouth and face, around his body, giving him the impression of an insurmountable stuffiness. He strode along in the fog. Lamp posts, haloed, standing out like Byzantine saints in the darkness. Laura, Laura. We are becoming one, Laura. And you too, Elliot. You said not long ago that there is enough money in the family for everyone of us. We are a family. Elliot and David and Laura and I. John recalled something his old editor had told him while he worked at Canuck. "Like every healthy society, we tend to absorb our alienated and dissident elements. Take yourself, for instance. He walked further into the fog, out to busy Keele Street, a four-lane stretch of asphalt that seemed to separate one Mac's Milk and service station from another. A thought kept repeating itself. It was something he had told a Russian soldier who had befriended him back in the Ukraine when little John's little "Vanya's" house had been occupied for the third time. "What are you going to be when you grow up, Vanya?" "That's easy," Vanya had said. He looked up a little nervously on the newly framed picture of Joseph Stalin up on the wall, the high forage cap with red star, the moustache of an Italian pimp. "When I grow up, I'm going to be a liotchik, a pilot. Yes, I'm going to be a pilot." "And so you shall," the soldier had said, he too looking up at Stalin's portrait. "And the beaming, sunny face of Comrade Stalin shall follow you forever."

For a moment, but just for a moment, John saw the sallow, starving faces of the Ukrainian holocaust, where Stalin had sealed off the country and starved or had shot ten million Ukrainians. And Elliott Jones had been an unwitting accomplice.

He had to make a quantum leap.


Back to Title Page


Charles Gramlich said...

Love that illustration of "Hat Man." Looks like a nasty character. This chapter sings. Nice, tight writing. The connection to the Ukraine slaughter gives it a solid backbone. said...

Thanks so much, Charles.

Erik Donald France said...

Love it, Ivan ~~! Have been trying to comment fo a while but stuck in Catch-22 Cyberville . . . said...

Erik Donald France,

You made it in, through my glutted computer.

...And thanks for making the extra effort.

eric1313 said...

hey Ivan!

It's pretty amazing, that while young we would unwittingly claim a monster as our goal in life when asked "what do you want to be?". The US child's version seems to have been Darth Vader.

ivan said...

Eric 1313,

You have hit the nail right on the head--and penetratingly.

It's a Gordian knot I've been trying to unravel for years.

Darth Vader. Yeah. said...

PS to Eric 1313

...Or, if on the Right, Ellworth Tooey, out of Ayn Rand, that other monster.
Ayn Rand's doppelganger?

Chris Benjamin said...

what charles said: tight indeed. great work. so many monsters at both extremes.

ivan said...

Hi folks,

My latest column is about unsung hero David McLearn, a City of Halifax gardener who snuck veggies in with the flower beds over the years and now gives 265 bags of local organic produce to Hope Cottage annually. It's up at

I also want to take this chance to recommend a video documentary by Silver Donald Cameron about Bhutan, which is the only nation that officially measures its progress with a Gross National Happiness index. I watched it a couple of weeks ago and, while I was familiar with the story, it was wonderful to see images of the place and interview snippets with luminaries like Vandana Shiva and the prime minister of Bhutan, and hear Silver Don's anecdotes about the place. To see for yourself, go to You can register on the site and see the doc for free (though most of the content there is by paid membership only).

Happy reading and watching,

Chris Benjamin is a freelance journalist and fiction writer. His critically acclaimed first novel, Drive-by Saviours, was listed as a Canada Reads Top 40 essential read of the decade. His first book of nonfiction, Atlantic Canada's Sustainability Innovators, will be published by Nimbus in Fall 2011. He is the Sustainable City Columnist

Donnetta Lee said...

Hi, Ivan: Trying to get out and about. Taking a "quantum leap." D

ivan said...


Sometimes we make that leap of faith.

In my own case, I have landed in broken beer bottles more often than not, but what the hell. I think it was worth it.

Take care.

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