A wildly entertaining roller-coaster ride, this novel combines ferociously clever slapstick, frenetic satire, and extremely sizzling love scenes to expose a turbulent 1980s Montreal. While following petty thief, drug dealer, and ladies' man, Johnny, as he explores his sexuality and unearths political cover-ups, this complex narrative examines issues of sexual power and individual identity, the nature of bureaucratic tyranny and political control, and the effect of history on us all. Concluding with the Montreal massacre, this is mostly a bittersweet romance: a love letter to a time and a place.
A BOOK FOR READERS SAVAGE & SMART Reviewed by Margaret Wagner Mount Royal shakes you up like a freight train, hitting you with the brash sounds and hell-bent forward motion of an underground culture fueled by high octane drugs, sex, disobedience, and a singular lack of remorse. The sex is unsparing and incredibly lush. It is a love story, in the sense that being honest in the portrayal of human passions and complexity without passing judgment is the essence of love... Margaret Wagner - Amazon
"Our place is a huge, high-ceiling pad that’s dirt cheap. It takes up the top two floors of an old tenement a couple blocks off The Main. Yeah, it’s drafty, has barely any furniture and the water pressure’s worthless, but the rooms are grand, with crumbling stucco molding and ornate peeling wallpaper. It’s an incredible luxury—the large salons Jane can hurl ashtrays across, bowling alley hallways where we roll and wrestle and tear one another’s clothes off on the floors of the empty rooms upstairs. Who needs a bed.
Best of all, Mount Royal looms right out the front windows, its eastern face maybe a mile away. And down here under our mountain it feels like an Open City, that wartime Casablanca kind of idea when civic leaders declare their town is sitting out this fight and the walls won’t be defended. Sure, armies can wander through to drink and fraternize, but no guns and definitely no marching. Commanders on all sides issue strict orders nobody will be raped, murdered or molested; nothing will be blown up, and people’s belongings won’t be seized. That makes the atmosphere relaxed and holiday-like; everyone sleeps in a lot, no annoying air raid sirens.
With its ancient buildings and broken, beautiful streets, Montreal is one of the last big Western cities where you can live in tarnished opulence without needing some idiotic job—which is why so many musicians, students, career welfare bums, and alleged artists gravitate here. Few of the low-rent Anglophone ex-pats who live around The Main speak more than rudimentary French, but we all vote for those xenophobic Separatist loons. Our strategy is meant to keep them in power and encourage the continued “flight of capital.” This insures the economy stays deep in the shitter, and our two favorite words remain posted on those big red and white signs you see on every street, all over town: À Louer. For Rent.
As I lie around wallowing the phone rings a couple times, stops, then rings again. It’s the code used by Al Polo, fellow rent-exile from Hogtown. To see him, you could easily imagine Al riding a penny-farthing, one of those old bicycles with the giant front wheel. Although he claims to be an actor, Al’s real talent is an uncanny party radar. He can find a gathering of booze, drugs, people, and noise on a dead Tuesday night in the middle of January. It might occasionally be something like a bunch of second-rate hairdressers, but more often than not we’ll end up at a mindblowing free bar and hot crowd soirée you’d normally only see in a movie.
“No time to be sleeping, Johnny.”
“Yeah... So where were you last night, Al?”
“I left early. Too many skinheads and off-island rustics. Listen, I’ve just received an important communiqué. Aunt Byron is coming to town.”
“Aunt Byron? Really, when?”
“No ETA established. However, judging from our conversational subtext, I predict two weeks.”
“So is this a visit er... what?”
“Unknown at this time. Byron plans to conduct some highly classified research. Our assistance will be required.”
“Uh huh... How’s he doing with the big switcherama, nothing’s grown back? They say the body never forgets—phantom feeling and so on.”
“First of all, it’s she, and her transition has gone beautifully. No complications. Now it’s simply a matter of emotional support and psychological reinforcement. And Johnny, keep the stupid jokes to a minimum, will you, please?”
Al’s coming on as if he’d used the scalpel himself and is worried about a malpractice suit.
“Sure thing, Herr Polo. So, Hennessy tells me you nailed down some extra gig.”
Like everyone, Al cheers up when he can talk about himself. “That’s correct. I have been engaged to perform in a television commercial featuring incontinence bags. The elderly are a major growth industry, my friend. I strongly urge you to invest now.”
“Old people. They’re a fucking embarrassment. Exterminate the brutes!”
“You’re a real tonic, Johnny. Nevertheless, it is a situation which allows me to practice the thespian arts as a paid professional, along with procuring some samples for Mama. Now, let me paraphrase from the script.” Al must be pretty excited—sounds like he’s getting to his feet. “All right then,” he comes back on. “I portray a man who strides past in the out-of-focus background, along a walkway in a well-manicured park. Perhaps he checks his watch, a furrowed brow, critical issues on his mind. Meanwhile, a very attractive elderly couple, in full possession of their faculties, waltzes happily in the foreground, eyes a’twinkle.”
“‘Eyes a’twinkle’? Holy fuck, Polo. So what’s this war crime pay?”
“Ten dollars per hour—cash. Time and a half after eight hours.”
“Ten bucks an hour. Christ, you’re a dupe.”
“Don’t be naïve, Johnny. Show business is all about favors and connections.”
“Yes, show business. For example, Karen at Ace Talent, the agency in the Cooper Building—she’s assured me that if I play along on this advert, I’ll be a shoo-in for full union scale and in-focus on EcoKidz Rock.”
“All right, I’m sitting down. What’s EcoKidz Rock?”
“It’s an award-winning CBC television series. A team of young sex-abuse survivors get into little adventures saving the environment.”
“Where’s my machinegun.”
“Oh, keep your hair on. I have to go. Mama has already begun her daily campaign of harassment. Perhaps I’ll see you at Tony’s.”
As old lady Polo yaps in the background, Al hangs up and I recall how a few years ago, when we still lived in Hogtown, he’d been one of the first to decipher where that place was really headed. In a matter of hours, Al had packed up and left for Montreal in the dead of night. He threw Mama in a wheelbarrow and they slipped past the guard towers, razor wire and minefields along the Quebec-Ontario border.
I’d been stubborn enough to stick it out during the final days of the First Developer War, driven from stylish loft to furnished room to unheated hovel. After being overrun by good looking, credit-worthy ground troops, I rolled up my life in an old rug and arrived in Montreal during a February blizzard. Al and Mama Polo were living in a huge, ramshackle flat at the north end of L’Esplanade. He’d stood in the doorway wearing a floor length Ayatollah nightshirt and bobbed his head with that knowing smirk. “Welcome to our island refuge, Johnny.”