P arker MacVeigh, a jaded newspaperman who has sworn off booze and cynicism, is almost too weary to want better for the world and himself: "I was pushing fifty and wanted to survive another ten years, maybe seven, and retire honourably, with enough money saved to buy a place beside a lake, where I could hang out in a canoe, play some golf, get a dog. I wanted to survive more or less peacefully, with minimum stress." But MacVeigh is also too honourable a character to settle for this not-so-great Canadian dream of early retirement. Someone, maybe Mordecai Richler himself, once described a composite of Richler's protagonists as a man who wants only to live according to a code of decency in the indecent modern world: that is, with integrity, dignity, honesty, and honour. Parker MacVeigh is such a decent character, a good man to spend time with, and entertaining company.
Parker's resolve and recognition that he loves a good woman keep him sober and guardedly hopeful. Luckily, Shirley Davis, the good woman, is also sardonic to a fault, and she becomes the siren who lures Parker back to a softly cynical, a healthily skeptical, engagement with the world. That is good news for readers, because Parker's observations and his repartee with Davis are, for lovers of wit and fine dialogue, sprinklings of cynical gold in the comic landslide that is The Grim Pig. In the fools' world of this novel, and in this world, a little cynicism is tonic indeed.
The author of such non-fiction bestsellers as At the Cottage and The Canada Trip, Charles Gordon has for decades been a celebrated newspaperman/columnist/ humorist. So it's no surprise that a newspaper world is the setting for this satire, his first fiction, which is also a love story and a mock mystery.
Thanks to its flighty new editor, the Grand Valley World-Beacon newspaper is temporarily gripped by the possibility that nefarious Saturnians have insinuated themselves into every aspect of life. This is also the Canada where a silly American evangelist, Dr. Uncle Bob, comes trolling for converts, prize-winning bass fish, and dosh. But such plots and subplots, however distracting, are incidental to Gordon's true offering here: insight into the workings of a daily newspaper as it makes up the pages that amuse its readers. This comic Pig holds up a grim mirror indeed, one that makes you laugh then think.
Not since one of the proofreading "galley slaves" in Brian Moore's splendidly comic The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1962) enlightened Ginger to the news that newspapers exist for the ads, has a Canadian novelist given so scathing an insider's account of how a newspaper is composed: interest artificially created, facts falsified, authoritative quotes invented, sensational stories disappearing as instantly as their headlines screamed for attention. It is a strange land, aphasic, where spoken sentences are left hanging on prepositions and subordinate conjunctions, a world without relatedness, a world where the mad medium is the message, where three new World-Beacon owners in as many years introduce four new philosophies, alternately attempting to make the newspaper more like TV and less like TV. In its illogical reasonableness and seamless disconnectedness, it echoes the topsy-turvy military worlds of Earle Birney's Turvey (1949) and Joseph Heller's Catch 22 (1961). If your skeleton sports a cynical bone, you'll eat this up. And if you see in Mrs. Baxter¨the current owner of the World-Beacon, who has "too much money to listen to anybody," and who believes that the homeless are extraterrestrials¨the likes of a former Canadian newspaper baron named Conrad, that is but another black treat dished up by this suggestive roman a clef.
With The Grim Pig Charles Gordon adds a new arrow to his considerable quiver: the superbly barbed comic novel. It's not surprising that a writer of Gordon's ubiquitous wit and charming style has written such an entertaining first fiction¨it's surprising only that he waited so long. Readers will want more. ˛