Archive for the ‘Timothy Findley’ Category

1967: The Last of the Crazy People

May 16, 2017

Canadian author Timothy Findley made a brief impression on a UK readership with the publication of his novel Pilgrim in 1999. Faber quickly reprinted two of most famous earlier works, The Wars and Famous Last Words, and Penguin published his final novel, Spadework, in 2001. Much of his other work is published by Penguin Modern Classics in Canada but you are unlikely to come across it here. His first novel, The Last of the Crazy People, originally published in 1967, is one such example (though ironically it was originally published in the UK having been rejected by Canadian publishers). In some ways it is atypical from much of his later work which tended to deal with historical settings and figures as it tells the story of a young boy, Hooker, (eleven as the novel opens) growing up in a wealthy but dysfunctional family in Cannington, Ontario, where Findley wrote the novel.

As the novel opens Hooker’s mother, Jess, has recently returned from hospital after a stillbirth and has shut herself away in her bedroom, an act which casts a shadow over the household:

“Nicholas gazed around the hallway and admitted with a look that the door at the top of the stairs was still there.”

Nicholas, Hooker’s father, is frozen in his response:

“Staring at the closed door in front of him, he could not help thinking, ‘This is my room. Why shouldn’t I go in there?’ The thought trespassed in his mind, just as he wished he could be strong enough to trespass beyond the door.”

Nicholas’ paralysis is exemplified in his pose, poised with his hand on the door handle but unable to turn it (hoping, in fact, it is locked). He worries, too, about Hooker’s older brother Gilbert, but is equally unable to rouse himself to action:

“I lie awake thinking I must do something for him… get him off some place, and will myself to be adamant…”

Hooker’s aunt, Rosetta, blames Nicholas for Gilbert’s inability to hold down a job, or make any use of his life:

“He’s not sick. He’s just a person whose been victimised by the bad habit of what you’ve allowed him to do – which is to lie still all the time instead of moving around.”

The novel is one of atmosphere rather than incident. Findley evokes the fear created by Jess and Gilbert’s instability brilliantly, particularly when Jess leaves her room on her birthday to unwrap her presents:

“Rosetta said, ‘Why don’t you open them, dear?’
‘I will,’ said Jessica, ‘I will.’
But she did not open them. Yet.”

The novel is also soaked in death. Hooker’s only loyal companions are his cats, and he spends his time burying the birds they kill. “You’ll get sick of it,” Iris, the maid, tells him, “And then there’ll be dead birds all over the lawn.” Iris’ favourite song, which she often sings believing it to be a love song, is ‘Frankie and Johnnie’, a tale of murder. During the course of novel Lee Harvey Oswald is shot, and Gilbert speculates on why he killed Kennedy:

“I think it was really for his own happiness. He couldn’t make the happiness – whatever it was – he couldn’t make it happen unless he killed Mr Kennedy.”

Even Rosetta declares at one point:

“Maybe we should all die. Maybe we should all just be satisfied to die.”

Inevitably, death takes centre stage in the final pages as we move from Long Day’s Journey into Night into Tarantino territory. The Last of the Crazy People is a tense analysis of a family in crisis, and another wonderful discovery in my journey through the fiction of 1967.

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