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Douglas MacLaurin.

Toronto, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, c1982.
144pp, cloth, $12.95.
ISBN 0-07-548455-2.


Grades 12 and up.
Reviewed by David J. Young.

Volume 11 Number 1.
1983 January.


MacLaurin has been both an inhabitant of skid row and a counsellor for a skid row drop-in centre for about a decade. Drawing from his experience he has written twenty-one "riffs from a street singer's blues" about drifters, winos, mental hospital outpatients, beggars, and ex-cons that hang out at Streetlight, a fellowship centre in a downtown Toronto church.

MacLaurin also wrote advertising copy, and it shows in his sardonic street-talk writing. He has some good metaphorsó "more guts than a slaughter house floor," "sideburns that hung on either side of his face like rat pelts," and some vulgar metaphors in his romp through the piteous lives of the down and out. Some of the characters were once rich and connected, and MacLaurin acts impressed, despite their present alcoholic, penniless daze. Most have just gone off the track and dream of getting rich while consuming whatever elixirs they can get their hands on. A few are funny, the sexually acrobatic Lady T, for instance, but sadness prevails. Not a sadness that evokes a feeling of concern, or a desire to help, rather a "that's life" feeling. About half way through the book the stories start to seem all the same; different names, same outcome.

There is no analysis, and I suppose there needn't be, but there is continual verbal slapping at all the social services who are incompetent, idiotic, uncaring goons with the "empathy of bulldozers." I found it difficult to be sympathetic by the end of the book, a response that is unfortunate because MacLaurin's is a point of view that is seldom written about. Too often there is analysis and no characterization, and with MacLaurin it is all character sketch and wisecracks. His people are caricatures rather than believable people struggling to survive. He needs to take one of these down and outers and make them come alive in his or her own book.

As an introduction to the lives of people most of us never have anything to do with, it is worthwhile. Readers of this book may look a little less harshly at the derelicts they pass by in the streets.


David J. Young, Vancouver, BC.
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