W. 0. MITCHELL's The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon (McClelland & Stewart, 135 pages, $18.99 paper), originally a short story, had a long and successful run as a play and has now been expanded to novella length. An entertaining tale of two cutting teams engaged in a gently unscrupulous and comic competition, it is set in the Prairie town of Shelby, Alberta, a locale readers wilt recall from Mitchell's 1990 novel Roses Are Difficult Here.
For 69-year-old Willie MacCrimmon, a widower, shoemaker, and loyal Presbyterian without a church, curling has become a religion. With his rink, he comes to stand toe to toe with "the Devil a.k.a. Old Cloutie" and his boys Macbeth, Guy Fawkes, and Judas Iscariot - in a stately and chaotic kind of Black Sabbath match.
Curling is depicted as a sport that can take hold of men and devils and transform them into reckless, desperate gamblers willing to sacrifice all for a shot at the national or even the "Celestial" Brier. Throughout the story, Mitchell, a humanist as welt as a humorist, aims a few rocks of his own at targets such as book-banning and the politically or otherwise correct. The ungenerous of spirit are also given short shrift.
When Mrs. Annie Brown, a strident opponent of such notable pornographers as Chaucer and Shakespeare, and her husband, minister of the local church, show up to lay down the law against Sunday curling, their interference nearly costs Willie his soul. But the night 'is saved by Willie's cunning and several fortuitous factors, not the least of which is the devilish nature of the other rink itself. Here, as elsewhere, W. 0. Mitchell shows that he is firmly on the side of the angels.