It’s a rare trick for a Canadian author, but Mordecai Richler is one of the greats. Barney’s Version is an enthralling and entertaining book that sheds so many of the conventions that other Canadian authors seem to love.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy CanLit. As a Canadian Studies major in my undergraduate years at the University of Toronto I’ve read my fair share of Canadian fiction. Probably your fair share too. But what should simply be a geographic category has built up an almost immobilizing amount of clichés that detracts from what should be a vibrant literary scene.
Seriously, most CanLit should come with a check list. Small, rural town with a main street of boarded up store fronts. A dark family secret, preferably involving sexual deviancy. Backhanded compliments towards the British and Americans that have a hint of jealousy. Rueful musings about life and history throughout the story.
Sometimes these characteristics are handled with aplomb, like Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business, but more often than not they create a kind of narrative rust that slows the plots of a lot of Canadian fiction.
However, Richler’s Bildungsroman/murder mystery/pseudo memoir as told by Barney Panofsky – and annotated by his son Michael – eschews most of these conventions. It even mocks them in the form of Terry McIvor, the elder Panofsky’s nemesis.
This self-awareness makes this the best book of Richler’s career.
Barney’s Version is set in 1995, as Quebec is preparing for its referendum on sovereignty. Barney, the main narrator, is coming to grips with the disappearance of the Montreal he knew and loved as well as his own personal decline as his body and memory begin to fail him.
The memoir is both a reaction to the unravelling of the world around him as well as a response to the sharp criticisms in McIvor’s autobiography and a final attempt at clearing his name in the disappearance – and probable murder – of his best friend, Boogie Moscovitch.
Planted firmly in the Richlerverse, with characters from earlier novels like the Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Saint Urbain’s Horseman and Solomon Gursky Was Here appearing throughout, Barney’s Version is Richler’s masterpiece of narrative storytelling and character development.
What’s most impressive is that the book is incredibly clever without ever getting showy or cute. Richler’s sharp use of an unreliable narrator – arguably two depending on how much faith you want to place in Michael Panofsky’s footnotes – is sharp and really stretches out the murder mystery until the very last page of the book.
Barney’s Version is well worth checking out, whether you’re familiar with CanLit or not. It is Mordecai Richler at the top of his game, pushing the narrative envelope while breaking new ground for a Canadian author, making him a singular literary figure in Canadian culture.
The National Hockey League’s Central Scouting Bureau released its final rankings for draft eligible amateur players on Monday. Not surprisingly, the top three North American skaters were Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog and Jonathan Huberdeau.
But those high picks are only a small part of the draft. What if your team has a low pick, or maybe no picks in the first round, who should you be hoping to get for that instant impact? Who is the sleeper of the 2011 draft?
Look no further than Daniel Catenacci of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
The five-foot-10 skater from Newmarket, Ont., was ranked 37th in the Central Scouting’s final report on domestic skaters, up from 43rd in January's midterm rankings.
When you mix in international skaters and goaltenders that means Catenacci could go as late as the third round of the NHL draft on June 24.
It’s an understandable fate when you look at the 18-year-old’s numbers from the Ontario Hockey League. Last season he had 26 goals and 45 assists with a minus-5 +/- rating and 117 penalty minutes. The year before that, Catenacci was a non-factor with 10 goals and 20 assists.
But Catenacci has a quality that most of his draft classmen lack: speed.
The above video is from the Canadian Hockey League Top Prospects game at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre on Jan. 19, when Catenacci put the afterburners on and broke open the scoring for Team Orr while shorthanded.
In that video it’s obvious that he’s by far the fastest player on the ice. In fact, he usually is, but that clip is exceptional. The guys in his dust are the best and brightest the CHL has to offer and yet they can’t catch him.
Earlier that week I attended the Next Testing session at the Mastercard Centre for Hockey Excellence where the Top Prospects were put through their paces. Dead sprints, agility tests, you name it, they did it.
Again, Catenacci was, by far, the best skater, outmanoeuvring and outpacing the other 40 or so players being tested. (You can see some of his performance here.)
At the Top Prospects skills competition, Catenacci was name the fastest skater, turning in a performance way ahead of the pack.
Why does all this matter? Because the thing that strikes most rookies when entering the NHL is the speed of the game. For their entire careers they’ve been one of the top players on their team, if not the best, and that usually includes being the best skater. But coming to the NHL they’ve finally found their level, and that doesn’t hold true anymore.
As a result, most rookies spend their first year as a professional trying to improve their skating and catching up to their teammates and opponents. It hurts their vision of the ice and impacts their ability to make plays.
Catenacci, presumably, won’t have that kind of trouble, since he should be able to keep pace.
His speed will also be an asset as he finds his role in the NHL. After all, what assignments are rookies usually given? Penalty killing, checking lines, defensive work and all with limited ice time. In all three cases, a fast skater will, pardon the pun, excel.
Although he’s not the prolific scorer that a Nugent-Hopkins, Landeskog or Huberdeau will be, Daniel Catenacci’s speed is an undeniable advantage that will make him NHL-ready before most of his peers and, hopefully, will increase his value come draft day. Certainly, any team will be lucky to have him on their depth charts.