GOPHERS DON'T PAY TAXES
Mervyn J. Huston.
Volume 11 Number 3.
During one scene in this novel our hero George, a young Alberta lawyer, is rebuked by the judge. "The Counsel for Defense will stop making florid speeches to woo the jury." It is good advice for George, and if we substitute "readers" for "jury," good advice too for author Huston who has a tendency to long-windedness.
According to the publisher's blurb, the book "explodes the Alberta stereotypes as imposed by eastern beer commercials." The truth is that the book is packed with its own stereotypes. There is the pompous civil servant from Ottawa who is outsmarted by the native cunning and good old down-to-earth folk wisdom of the small town Albertan. Then there is the travelling preacher (who is a charlatan, of course), and the religious brother (who is sexually frustrated, of course), and the town prostitute (who numbers some upstanding citizens among her clients, of course).
Gophers is not really a novel, but nineteen short stories about Depression days in a mythical Alberta town called Blossom. The narrator is a travelling salesman, and most of the incidents concern George Ingraham, the town lawyer. Neither the salesman nor the lawyer emerges as a believable character, and it is here that the book's intended humour falls apart.
Characters in comedy need to be as real as characters in any other form of fiction, and these ones just are not. One scene, called "Wedding Bells," which recounts a disastrous wedding ceremony, had funny incidents falling flat because the author insisted on playing the scene with six characters who were all new to us and very fuzzily drawn.
Mervyn J. Huston has six other books to his credit. This one won him the 1982 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. That is a surprise, because it needed to be much more tightly written (cut by about one third). It reads like a very competent first draft.
Jim Delaney, Msgr. Pereyma School, Oshawa, ON.
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