Friday, October 10, 2014

8th Canadian Challenge - 4th review - More Joy in Heaven

So on this trip to Chicago, I left behind The Gambler (though I am so close to being done with it and should definitely wrap that up on Sunday upon our return) and brought some shorter Canadian books.  The extra bonus will be if I can finish them and leave them here, since it means knocking a few off of my TBRD pile (to be read and discarded pile).  It will mean so much for my mental health to make some headway there.

Now that is not at all to say that I think Morley Callaghan's More Joy in Heaven is a bad or unworthy book.  It is a fine but minor morality play.  In short, for me, it is not a book for the ages, which is what it is going to take from now on to be added to the groaning shelves once a book has been moved to the TBRD pile.  

If I am remembering correctly, I actually got this book fairly recently at the Toronto Library book sale (I had really been there to get a collection of Aristophanes' comic plays, which was still where I had left it -- yes!).  I have slowly collected a fair number of Callaghan novels, though this is only the second I have read and reviewed.  This one is one of his earlier works where he focuses on outcasts and criminals and people outside conventional morality.  He got so known for this that he even spoofs this a bit in A Fine and Private Place, which I reviewed back in 2012.

The basic set-up is that Kip Caley is an ex-convict (actually a bank robber) who has reformed in prison and is released on parole early, against the recommendation of Judge Ford.  Father Butler, the priest who ministered to Caley in prison, is the closest thing he has to a friend.  Father Butler despairs when he finds out that Caley intends to move back to Toronto, though this could be any city with a few rival newspapers and a washed up boxing promoter and a few large banks.  The main theme of the book is that Caley truly wants to be good, but he is extremely dependent upon other people accepting that he has changed to build him up.  So when people's interest in this prodigal son naturally wanes, he starts questioning everything.  (The New Testament parable of the prodigal is explicitly referenced half a dozen times or so.)

Caley gets very impatient with those whose motives seem a bit mixed (such as a boxing promoter who wants him to gets involved in staged fights but who also pays him to be a greeter at a hotel/night club).  Many people ultimately fail him in showing that they are quite shallow and not really all that interested in his transformation.  This is particularly true of the Senator and the Mayor who both take an interest in his case, at least for a while.  He struggles to determine if the love that is growing with this young woman, Julie Evans, is real or not, and whether he really can risk letting down his defenses.  What really seems to hurts him the most are these two other jailbirds who cynically assume that he has not changed and all, and they follow him around to try to rope him into "one last job."  While Callaghan doesn't dwell on this, the book is set during the Depression, which certainly didn't help the odds of a former convict making a living by playing it straight.

Given the speechifying and the insistence on worrying over the purity of people's motivations puts me very much in mind of a Capra film but mixed up with a film noir plot.  And that is probably more than enough to say about the book without totally spoiling it.  Apparently, the novel was based on a real case of a Canadian bank robber who was paroled and had trouble fitting into society after his release.  It was a quick read and I enjoyed it, despite the very real struggles that Caley faced.

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