Speaking of wanting out: Margie Taylor, a former Calgary radio host, quit her job at the CBC after two decades in order to complete her novel, Some of Skippy's Blues (Robert Davies Multimedia Publishing, 284 pages, $21.99 paper). The book is set in a small fictional city, Cambrian Bay, modelled on Taylor's hometown, Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Skippy Jacques, whose bout with polio as a child leaves him with a limp and a scarred self-image, is befriended in high school by Benny Carter, a newcomer from Memphis. Benny is unlike anyone Skippy has met before: interested in everything and seemingly immune to the jeers his interests elicit from his classmates. He loves jazz and folk music, and is especially drawn to the Beat Generation. Before long, he and Skippy have plans to go on a Kerouac-style road trip as soon as they graduate.
In the meantime, however, Benny travels on his own, taking off for days at a time and returning with exciting information about the world outside the narrow confines of 1960s Cambrian Bay. During one of his trips to New York, a brief encounter with a waitress named Margaret changes not only Benny's plans, but Skippy's too. There will be no road trip. Instead, when Margaret phones to inform Benny that he is the father of the child she is carrying, he convinces her to move to Cambrian Bay and marry him
Skippy, fond of Margaret from the start, spends a lot of time with her and Benny during the pregnancy, and the three grow close. The friendship seems perfect until fate intervenes, leaving both the marriage and the friendship in shambles, pushing Skippy into the next phase of his life.
He opens a coffee house in a local church basement, where he falls for the beautiful, mysterious Doris. She becomes a Sunday night regular, and Skippy becomes more and more obsessed with her. In his idealization of Doris, he exhibits an almost "chivalrous" love. Although he has no knowledge of who the "real" Doris is, he is determined to care for her and protect her, buy her expensive gifts, take her on the road trip he and Benny never took. His fantasy grows so elaborate that by the time he accidentally learns she's a prostitute he's unable to relinquish his own image of her-an image with which he is in love. Unfortunately, Skippy's emotions and long-term plans don't take Doris's reality into account at all: her feelings, her desires. Skippy must eventually face the truth: the Doris he wants to spend his life with is a Doris that doesn't exist.
In Skippy, Taylor has created a likeable and empathic character struggling with his humanness: the bouts of self-delusion and loneliness, the yearning for love and acceptance, the challenge of overcoming not only physical problems but spiritual ones as well. It's too bad that although Benny and Doris are both given main-character status alongside Skippy, they aren't given the same sort of in-depth attention.