Chump Change:
A Novel

by David Eddie,
288 pages,
ISBN: 0679308105

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First Novels - Sardines of Poverty
by Eva Tihanyi

Striking a much lighter note is David Eddie's Chump Change (Random House, 272 pages, $19.95 paper). The hero is writer-wannabe David Henry, who, at thirty-four, returns to Toronto from New York, unsuccessful in his bid for literary fame and fortune. He has been a letters clerk for Newsweek, a job he detested and finally quit. When he arrives in Toronto, he is broke, physically run-down, and completely reliant on the help of his friends. The closest of these is Max, a script development officer for the government-owned Cosmodemonic Broadcasting Corporation. Max, like David's professor father, encourages him to "get a real job." However, David is a writer with a capital W and holds out as long as he possibly can. The novel chronicles his life throughout this period, a period that might succinctly be summed up as follows: he drank (Scotch), he borrowed (money), he lusted (especially after "the legendary Leslie Lawson"). Leslie is a legendary stereotype, a typical male fantasy who "seems to do nothing but bend over to pick things up or stand on her tiptoes to reach things off the top shelves." Any intended entertainment value (and Eddie does try very hard to be entertaining) is marred by adolescent male posturing: Just one example: "I sympathized with her, I really did. But it's one thing to sympathize with someone during the day, quite another to sympathize when you wake up in the middle of the night with your dick sandwiched between the cheeks of that person, and she just happens to be a big, beautiful, nineteen-year-old Danish-derived sex bomb. It's tough to be Mr. Sensitive Guy at such a moment. Still I didn't force myself on her, boys. No, I took the high road: I begged, I pleaded, wheedled, and cajoled her, but I never raped her."

David, who like the author is originally from the U.S., has an equally stereotypical, tiresome view of Toronto in particular (it "isn't all that interesting a city") and Canada in general: "kinder, gentler" than the U.S., the sort of nation "the U.S. no longer was and perhaps would never be again."

Finally, David gives in, accepts a TV news-writer position at the CBC, gets his own apartment, revels in his $40,000 a year, and makes peace with his dad. But eventually his true writer-wannabe nature wins out and, just as he is about to get fired, he himself terminates his employment. At the end, he's come full circle back to "the sardines of poverty" and once again the artist-in-the-garret stereotype is glorified. (Mike Harris should approve.)


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