JOHN MILLS'S Thank Your Mother for the Rabbits (Porcupine's Quilt, 272 pages, $14-95 paper) is an entertaining series of autobiographical, but defiantly unchronological, essays and remembrances spanning more than 60 years.
A wily enemy of the conformist ethic, Mills spent many years in different locations, struggling to liberate himself from enervating, frequently inane jobs for which, he maintains, people receive their earliest training in an educational system that rewards unquestioning obedience. Mills's account of his life experiences, with its acute and often amusingly unsympathetic portraits of human beings in action, reveals a practical, energetic intelligence and an apparently resilient soul.
A rugged iconoclast then, and a confirmed Christian now, he respects individuality and includes entertaining and affectionate tributes to his Montreal friend and former neighbour Irving Layton, and to the late Milton Acorn.
In "Unicorn Evils" Mills, who now lives and teaches in Vancouver, writes of a return visit to his working-class home in England, evoking the soul-crushing grimness of both the atmosphere and his mother's suffocating perspective on life. Nevertheless, before her death he is able to glimpse the reasons behind her embittered assessments of human endeavour, thus gaining some insight into her pain and fear. Mills's much-appreciated father had, by contrast, provided an emotional loophole with his whimsical outlook. The title of this book was one of his father's phrases, and through that loophole of whimsy the author seems to have escaped more than once.