Sunday, June 22, 2008

Mordecai Richler's Lost/Unpublished Book! Page One

A friend of mine has a father who installs carpets. He's not a particularly honest man. And, if you count his criminal record, I guess you could say that he's had his problems with the law.

A few weeks ago my friend's dad was called out to Rosedale. He was supposed to help install a rug in the home of a wealthy WASP. Apparently the woman had decided to cover up her hardwood floors. "As an incentive to stop drinking," she said. WASPs, as we all know, are all terrific drunks. Previous to the new rug she'd been spilling martinis and sopping up the mess with Wonder Bread.

Anyway, the man installed the rug. He installed it in the living room, the dining room, the foyer, and the downstairs library/office. It was in the office, while moving a cabinet, that he found something interesting: a manuscript, apparently written by Mordecai Richler, that had gone unpublished. For whatever reason, this was a book that Richler couldn't sell. Or didn't want to sell.

My friend's dad, being a great reader, did the only thing he could think of doing: he stole the book. Then he offered to sell it to me.

"This is stolen," I said. "I can't buy it from you."

"Why not?" he asked.

"Because it's illegal."

"So's taking a shit at the corner of Richmond and John."

"Yeah, but I don't do that."

"Oh. Well...from the back it looked like you."

I eventually did buy the book. I bargained him down to $85 dollars. "Well, you really Jewed me down on that one," he said.

"Damn right."

So, here, for the first time, is an excerpt from Richler's lost work. The manuscript is entitled Adler for Adler, and, if there's any interest, I'd be more than happy to serialize it on this site.

[Note: Although it may seem incredibly co-incidental, one of Adler for Adler's protagonists is named David Adler. Considering how Richler used the name Adler in Son of a Smaller Hero, I guess it's no so incredible.]

I've used text-recognition software to convert the scanned pages to electronic text.

Adler for Adler
Page One

David’s accountant, a Forest Hill Jew who, a year earlier, had committed his only child to the toil and trouble of Branksome’s instructors and clergy, delighted in the stories her exile produced. “They’ve got a picture of Him in every room, and the teachers all wear these short sweater-things with their shirts tucked in, so you can see their cocks. If anything starts moving, that guy’s out of there.”
David had agreed to the volunteer role under one condition. “When I get up there, are they going to perform any kind of ceremony?”
“Well, I guess they’ll introduce you.”
“Isn’t there any kind of protocol for calling an assembly to order?”
“You’re just talking to a bunch of kids. I think it’s pretty informal.”
“What about the anthem?” Adler asked.
“It won’t be first-thing in the morning. I think they’ll probably have sung it already.”
“I’ll do it on one condition: they sing O Canada before they introduce me.”
“And then we sing Hatikvah.”
“Fuck off.”
“That’s my final offer. Take it or leave it.”
So he had shepherded himself onto the stage, drink in hand, surrounded by the headmaster and three English teachers with first period spares.
“As you entered,” the headmaster, a white-haired, argyle-sweatered man in his late-50s, began, “you all were given sheets of paper. They contain the lyrics to the Jewish national song, which, today, as a sign of commitment to a policy of brotherhood between the Hebrew and Christian nations--symbolized by Mr. Adler’s visit--we will all sing together.” He paused to glimpse at Adler, who smiled above his raised glass. “Um, you will notice that the words have been spelled in both phonetic English and in Hebrew for anyone who wishes to read in the original language.”
“Don’t forget to tell them,” Adler called, “that the Jewish words are right-to-left.”
“Yes. Mr. Adler reminds me that the Hebrew words can be read from the right to the left. Would everyone please stand.”
A nun, in full habit, sat down at the organ, sight-reading the sheet-music that Adler had so graciously provided.
“Coal odd bale valve” Collins sang, his voice a deep, rich Dennis Day tenor, “pa nigh mah, knee fish Ye hud dee ho me yah.” Adler watched, lips pursed, as the singers stumbled through their lines. “Hat ick vah bat shnot [Dear God] alp ay im,” Collins muttered, staggering to the end of the final verse, cheeks red, eyes seemingly begging the ceiling’s forgiveness. As the organ hummed to an even silence, Adler could see the man's hand trembling. The organ-playing nun clutched her left arm. A divine infarction? He smiled.
The singing portion of the morning over, everyone was once again seated.
“Thank you for that kind gesture,” Adler said, taking the podium. “You’ve really made me feel at home today.”
What would he do for his visit? Alone in the shower he’d considered his options. Had he written anything lately that prominently featured the word penis? Surely, but would that be adventurous enough? It was almost banal. Philip Roth had ruined him for realistic satire. Now everything had to shoot or expel something. These were teenaged girls, nipples pierced below starched white blouses and ties, hymens certainly rent beneath folds of tartan. “Not to mention,” he thought, stepping under the uneven spray, “white cotton panties. Ha!” What would the Jew among them say? The question was settled one night at dinner as he and Nancy discussed Joan’s increasing isolation in her attic room. She had only recently revealed to them that she was seeing someone—-a boy, sixteen, a defensive back on the varsity squad (the Blue and White King Collegiate Eagles). Having met him once, by accident, while scanning a rack of porno mags in a downtown convenience store, David sensed this was a boy with not a small amount of clinical expertise. “Is your name Elliott?” he’d asked, eying the stripling youth’s bulging denim-covered crotch, replacing a butcher-paper wrapped magazine behind a stray copy of Life’s Year in Picture’s.
Now he sat at the kitchen table with his wife, a woman who, despite her own sexless experience as an adolescent girl, seemed increasingly concerned about their children’s chastity.
“Have you noticed Virginia going in and out of the kitchen?” Nancy asked, chopping lettuce for a salad.
“No. She hardly ever eats at all.”
“Yes. But late at night, do you hear anything?”
“You know I’m out by ten o’clock.”
She washed a handful of radishes in the sink, dropping them on the cutting board.
“I’m concerned about her behaviour.”
“So she’s been a little withdrawn lately. All teenagers are like that.”
“I think one of us should talk to her.”
“About what?” Nancy shot him a look, gripping the handle of the knife so that her knuckles showed white. “She’s too young,” he thought, fighting his own instincts, “you’re worried about nothing.”
“And I suppose,” Nancy said, holding up a large, thick, and still intact Ontario-raised cucumber, “these are your teeth marks?”

More to follow? Only if you ask.

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