MORE by Austin Clarke (Thomas Allen), 300 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN
You don't have to be an Austin Clarke fan to recognize that his new novel, More, is a winner.
The backdrop is Toronto, mostly around Moss Park, and the story is grounded by Idora Morrison, who immigrated from Barbados as an indentured servant 30 years ago.
Clarke's detailing of the streets' bustle and attitude makes him a virtuoso city guide, especially if you haven't ventured out of your own T.O. comfort zone.
And Idora is a thoroughly compelling character, with her rambling observations of minutiae as she commutes, shops, worships, cooks, flirts, works or entertains thoughts of perpetrating civil mayhem.
Idora digs swilling German beer and spitting American potato chips while cheering for any opposing team about to kill the Leafs on TV. Yet she's not really likeable. Morally and interpersonally, she's all over the map.
For all her fear, loathing and embarrassment that her teenage son, BJ (aka Rashan Rashanan), is nothing but a rap-video-mimicking hood-rat thug, she enlists his aid in an outright criminal act.
She often wishes for the fortitude to oust the little bugger from the rent-controlled government basement apartment they share. But when he gets ghost, as in MIA, presumably gang-related, she's hurled into a bedridden emotional abyss.
From rock bottom, the tale of Idora's journey swings from reveries of back home to lucid dreams and profound foreboding.
She's also encumbered by the fact that her ne'er-do-well gambling-addicted husband has headed to the States in search of luckier horses and has been gone more than five years.
To say More is a meditation on race, class and gender in modern Western society sounds like major praise, but it actually soft-shoes
Clarke's smash-mouth knack for exposing the multicultural minefields we navigate.
Clarke reads October 31, 8 pm, in the Fleck Dance Theatre.