Here’s a review in my favorite tabloid, the Toronto Star, of the the show atThe Justina M. Barnicke Gallery featuring two of my favorite artists, Toronto’s Ed Pien and Cape Dorset’s Samonie Toonoo, and curated by the always astute and unconventional Nancy Campbell. Check out the link on Toonoo’s name for a look at some more of his stunning soapstone sculptures.
On Thursday the 25th of February, I’m going to head up to Kelowna to extemporize about the Olympics and athletics and also read a chunk from The Man Game. The artist and writer, based in Kelowna, Portia Priegert, wrote a profile for the local paper. The Kelowna Daily Courier hasn’t had a chance to post it online yet, so Portia scanned a copy of it and sent it to me. I’ll post it here, because I love the look of this scan, which came to me looking more like an artwork than a news item.
It’s also Freedom to Read Week. These days with the Olympics on TV and on the streets around me, I hardly have any freedom or free time to read. In fact, when I go downtown to see the crowds and celebrations at Robson Square I notice more folks shopping at Chapters than at HMV. There’s a ton of other crazy strange things to notice about Vancouver during the Olympics that are worth sharing with an Interior BC crowd.
Thanks to Michael Hingston at See Magazine in Edmonton for doing this phone interview with me. He called and woke me up while I was staying drinking at the Banff Centre, so I had to do this interview Lennon-Ono style!
THE MAN GAME
By Lee Henderson. Viking Canada. 518 pp. $32.
Hollywood legend has it that Alien was sold on the strength of a one-line pitch: “Jaws in space.” It’s easy to imagine The Man Game, the huge and wondrous debut novel from Lee Henderson, being sold in similar style: “Deadwood in Vancouver.”
Like the now-cancelled HBO show, Henderson’s book is chock full of wily prostitutes, take-no-shit bartenders, waves of Chinese immigrants sent up from San Francisco, and generally fuzzy notions of law and history. Both are also beautifully written, with unlikely amounts of poetry scattered amidst waves and waves of cursing. Instead of drunk, violent cowboys, however,The Man Game has drunk, violent lumberjacks. Instead of spurs, they wear flannel.
Written over nine years, Henderson’s book recounts the imagined history of the “man game” — a sport that’s part Greco-Roman wrestling, part ballroom dancing, part bar brawl — which takes the young Canadian city by storm in 1886. The cast balloons into the dozens, but at the centre are Molly Erwagen and her paralyzed husband Sammy, who arrive in Vancouver just as a massive forest fire threatens to swallow the city whole.
An ex-vaudeville performer and current housewife, Molly senses a business opportunity in the working-class loggers, who have no entertainment available to them aside from the usual opium, whiskey, and prostitutes. Behind her husband’s back, she recruits and trains two disgraced lumberjacks as the game’s first players, and together they set out to bring some culture to the barbaric west.
SEE recently woke Henderson up while on a retreat as part of the Calgary Writers’ Festival. He spoke to us over the telephone. He didn’t get out of bed.
SEE Magazine: The Man Game is set in late 19th-century Vancouver, amidst anti-Chinese riots and the great fire of 1886, which nearly destroyed the city the same year it was incorporated. How much of this history did you know before starting the book? Read the rest of this entry »
Lee Henderson’s debut novel, The Man Game, opens in Vancouver in 1886, a dirty, bawdy city full of smoke and filth. Enter Molly Erwagen, a performer who has spent most of her life in the circus, recently transposed from out East with her paralyzed husband Samuel. Having nothing else to do but look after him, she finds her attention drifting to two lumberjacks, Litz and Pisk. They’re immersed in the underground “man game,” a brutal, poetic form of wrestling, where men strip naked and pulverize each other. She finds in them the same sense of desperation she feels and is drawn into their world of performative violence. Read the rest of this entry »
Philip Marchand, Weekend Post Published: Saturday, October 04, 2008
Great swatches of Canadian literature are occupied by a collective phenomenon I call phantom characters.
These are fictional human beings who don’t really emerge from the narrative, or assume rounded dimensions. They’re like individual blanks accompanied by a set of instructions from the author to the reader, on what to make of them. These semi-human personalities often have a mysteriously soulful presence and display extreme, but somehow poetically appropriate, behaviour.
Jane Urquhart and Michael Ondaatje love this sort of character, and now Vancouverbased author Lee Henderson, in his debut novel, The Man Game (Viking Canada, $32), joins their company. Numberone phantom character in the novel, set mostly in 1886 Vancouver, but intertwined with a narrative of the present-day city, is 17-year-old Molly Erwagen, married to Sammy Erwagen, quadriplegic bookkeeper to a Vancouver sawmill manager. Her green eyes, “flecked by a saffron cascade of fallen flames,” and her “moonlit” beauty have a preternatural effect on men, who view her as a “goddess.” One besotted male claims, “She’s how we know God exists.” Another man, in her presence, feels like “a peer to God.”
Why exactly they feel this way we don’t know. It must have something to do with that saffron cascade. This arbitrariness becomes a problem in the works of Urquhart and Ondaatje because sooner or later their phantom characters find themselves in a conventional narrative, but at least The Man Game, from start to finish, is an assay into the “unknown weird,” as one character puts it. Anything goes. Case in point is the “man game” of the novel’s title, an invention of Molly’s. The game is a rarefied form of pro-wrestling between two naked men — the nudity keeps the game “honest” — a combination of martial arts, dancing and acrobatics. Read the rest of this entry »
At Stanley Park, the Hollow Tree is braced by two beams and could be mistaken for a giant, primordial tripod. In Lee Henderson’s mind, the long-standing but ailing park attraction appears too small.
Henderson, whose first novel, The Man Game (Penguin, $32), is set in an earlier period of Vancouver’s history, when the park was occupied by squatters, a Native settlement, and a herd of free-range cattle, describes archival photos he’s seen in which people pose with cars and elephants inside the tree. In his novel, he’s set a pivotal scene, in which one character spurns another’s advances, at the local landmark.
“It must have been pretty huge at one time,” says Henderson about the tree, which, he tells me, has shrunken as it’s dried out over the decades. “It’s still pretty towering.”
The Man Game isn’t your typical historical novel, one that tries to conjure a place in the past as accurately and believably as possible. Although thoroughly researched, the book is full of deliberate anachronisms, including its eponymous conceit: a Greco-Roman–style wrestling competition between naked lumberjacks that transfixes the city in its early days. Read the rest of this entry »
Lee Henderson’s inspired imagining of frontier Vancouver is a loose, baggy monster of a novel that already has him in the running for the big book prizes
Aug 31, 2008 04:30 AM
The Man Gameby Lee Henderson
513 pages, $32
Hooray for The Man Game, and hooray for Lee Henderson.
Henderson is the author of one previous book, The Broken Record Technique, a fine collection of short stories that won the Danuta Gleed literary award in 2003. He’s also got a great-looking website. The Man Game is his first novel, and it’s a terrific debut. Read the rest of this entry »
Remarkable first novel full of compelling surprises It’s surprising that a book called The Man Game should have a woman as the central character, bit it’s only the first of many compelling surprises in Vancouver writer Lee Henderson’s remarkable first novel.
The Man Game itself turns out to be an imaginary activity in present-day Vancouver that seems to owe something to Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club.
It’s an extreme sport that combines brutal violence and slapstick comedy with elements of ballroom dancing and vaudeville.
Competitors are awarded points for successfully executing moves with names like the “Medical Breakthrough,” “Flipping the Bird” and “The Boxing Chinee.” Spectators crowded into the squalid backyard drink beer, cheer and boo, and bet heavily on the outcome.
Thanks to Greg Buium for an in-depth write-up on The Man Game for the CBC, that includes mention of Superconductor, George Bowering, and Father Zosima Presents…as well as asking me to include 10.5 interesting things I learned while researching the book. And to Luckybuzzfor the great comment.
THE MAN GAME By Lee Henderson Viking Canada, 513 pages, $32 It begins with a handshake, a moment of solemnity and ritual before all hell breaks loose: A bizarre, cartoonish competition that combines ballroom dancing, ultimate fighting, wire-work kung fu and bare-knuckle boxing in a gracefully brutal show of, essentially, two men beating the hell out of each other.
Thanks to Caroline Skelton at the North Shore News for the nice profile piece! It runs under the slow-news-day headline: Rules of The Man Game hard to pin down. I’ll copy-paste the piece and put it under the perforated fold line because I have no idea how long things stay on the weird canada.com website system…
On a recent Vancouver Sunday afternoon, a young man stumbles upon a secret sport invented more than a century before, at the birth of his city. Thus begins The Man Game, an epic tale of loved requited and not, that crosses the contemporary and historical in an extravagant, anarchistic retelling of the early days of a pioneer town on the edge of the known world.
In 1886, out of the smouldering ashes of the great fire that destroyed much of the city,Molly Erwagen—former vaudeville performer—arrives from Toronto with her beloved husband, Samuel, to start a new life. Meanwhile, Litz and Pisk, two lumberjacks exiled after the fire, and blamed for having started it, are trying to clear their names. Before long, they’ve teamed up with Molly to invent a new sport that will change the course of that fledgling city’s history.
Readers familiar with the grim suburban landscape of Lee Henderson’s 2002 short-story collection The Broken Record Technique may be surprised to discover that the Saskatoon-born, Vancouver-dwelling author’s debut novel digs deep into the hoary ground of Canadian history. Set mostly during Vancouver’s early years – when the city, awaiting a CPR hookup to the rest of the country, was still a rowdy Wild West outpost – The Man Game is indeed a historical novel, but one that operates according to its own cracked logic, conjuring a city peopled by gruff woodsmen, indentured Chinese labourers, corrupt city officials, and rapacious, opium-addicted industrialists.
The invisible thread that connects all these people is the raunchy, subversive “man game.” Invented by 17-year-old ex-vaudeville actor Molly Erwagen, who arrives in Vancouver with her crippled husband Sammy amidst the great fire of 1886, the game combines the violence and histrionics of professional wrestling with the graceful acrobatics of ballroom dancing – “a waltz with a clap in the face.” Performed in the nude, the game becomes a wildly popular spectator sport among the city’s downtrodden – which is to say, nearly everyone.
Henderson’s tale skips among a myriad of characters, painting an oddly comic, often grotesque panorama of city life like something out of Bosch – or Pynchon, for that matter. Inevitably, just like one of the performers of the man game, Henderson does at times swing wide of the mark, faltering on the novel’s ambitious narrative sweep. Sammy’s ward, for example, a Snauq Indian who speaks in a wooden patois (“A deer go to hide in the water”), is about as subtle as the cigar-store variety. And Vancouver’s mythic past never really connects to the humdrum reality of the novel’s present-day narrator, who stumbles upon a cache of man game memorabilia in an east side basement.
But as pure spectacle, The Man Game is as brilliant and twisted as a funhouse mirror, and Henderson is a wildly seductive ringmaster.
Reviewed by Stuart Woods (from the July 2008 issue)
Lee Henderson is the author of The Broken Record Technique, which was widely praised and went on to win the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. He has also won a Western Magazine Award for his short fiction and his work appeared in the prestigious Journey Prize Stories in 2000 and 2006. He is a regular contributor to Border Crossings and Contemporary, and he has curated numerous exhibitions of emerging Canadian artists. He lives in Vancouver, B.C. His eagerly anticipated new novel, The Man Game, will be published
August 5, 2008.