THE READ

The Green North (1970)
Richard Rohmer’s first book – not counting Practice and Procedure Before the Highway Transport Board – is the pronunciamento of a new national purpose: To build planned communities all over northern Canada. Why? Well, because. That’s why. Rohmer dreams of towns that never were and asks why not. Plus you never know when six new Calgarys might come in handy. A paste-up job of interviews, articles and meeting notes that never quite explains what it wants or why, The Green North is nevertheless the key to much of Rohmer’s early work, laying the speculative groundwork for Ultimatum, Separation and Exodus/UK. Wait, can a key lay groundwork? D

The Arctic Imperative (1973)
The energy crisis gives birth to a monster, or maybe the monster is the solution to the energy crisis, I’ll need to check my notes. One way or another, it’s imperative that Canada changes the way it administers its vast untapped supplies of arctic oil and natural gas. This is the arctic imperative. Imperative because it’s important and it’s an order and arctic because it involves the Arctic. Arctic imperative. Got it? It’s everything you love in Richard Rohmer: oil, natural gas, the Mackenzie Delta, Parliament, Exxon, pipe, tankers, nationalism, banks, permafrost, a drawing of a de Havilland Otter, loans, repetition, and loans. What it lacks is a thesis, beyond the general implicit sense that the Canadian government should make sure that Canadian businessmen get their cut. Which is fine, too, I guess, but it’s hard to see how who should get rich – and where they should have been born – is proven or disproven by Rohmer’s lists of pipe sizes. “Ed should have all the apples. There are many kinds of apples. So give them to Ed.” You get that it’s imperative, but you keep thinking, “wait, could you please explain that middle part of the argument again?” D

Ultimatum (1973)
“Now I want you to prepare for a briefing…!”
     Like super-charged dominos, one fantastic meeting leads to another when the President of the United States calls the Prime Minister of Canada and delivers the ultimate ultimatum: Give us control of your oil… or else! Prime Minister Robert Porter’s schedule rapidly fills, and he also takes a number of phone calls, while the President personally pilots Air Force One to the brink of war… and the shores of Hudson Bay, to inspect some pipe. While the clock ticks down, a nation debates “not so much the access to the energy reserves of the Canadian Arctic as the whole question of an independent future for Canadians.” Sam Allen, Inuit terrorist and the Prime Minister’s best friend, must make an terrible choice between two loyalties, and when tragedy strikes, the leader of a proud land declares: “That was a brave, brave man. I must phone his wife. I knew them when I was in Inuvik.”
    Time’s up. Will it be war or not war? C

Exxoneration (1974)
Spoiler alert: It’s war. Colonel Pierre Thomas de Gaspé, “a tall man with an easy smile and a domineering, forceful presence” thwarts the United States’ conquest of Canada by bottling up the invading army at Toronto International Airport. A summit is arranged, to negotiate a peace treaty, and Prime Minister Porter naturally wants de Gaspé there, because de Gaspé is also the president of Petro-Canada. (“Even though I’ve known you for years, Pierre, I had no idea you were involved in the military…”) The treaty is signed, but de Gaspé has one more fantastic card up his sleeve: The ultimate revenge. “Prime Minister, I propose that Petro-Canada do a take-over bid on Exxon.” And – using money – that’s exactly what they do. C+

Exodus/UK (1975)
When Prime Minister Jeremy Sands of the UK decides to secretly sell arms to the Israelis, his actions infuriate Saudi Arabia and they decide to cut off all investments to the country. Naturally, this will bankrupt the UK, being besieged by recession and uncooperative unions. Desperate, he does the only thing that people in Rohmer world do – take to the skies to fly around the planet in an effort to stave off the crisis. President Sheppard of the US is willing to help – after admonishing him for the lack of effort the UK has shown in getting North Sea Oil flowing. But Sands’ plan for bailing out the UK starts with having six million Britons emigrate immediately, with two million of them earmarked to become Canadians. This opens up a rift between Canadian PM Roussel (who likes a good drink. Or two. Or ten.) and Premier Belisle of Quebec and sparks a crisis of national unity. But before that can happen, Canadian PM Roussel and the glamourous US Secretary of State Jessica Swift also find themselves jetting around the globe – a handy map is provided – trying to work things out. PM Sands’ plane crashes in the Canadian Arctic, President Sheppard comes up with a bailout plan that comes with a high price, and the decision whether or not to accept two million UK refugees into Canada, thereby tearing the country apart, is saved till the last line of the book…. B

Separation (1976)
The decision teased at the end of Exodus/UK kicks off this book. PM Jeremy Sands of the UK sheepishly apologizes for dividing the country, to which PM Roussel responds “Divided! Mon Dieu, this must be the worst crisis since Confederation!”. Obviously, he has forgotten what happened in Ultimatum! Canada agrees to accept the two million, setting in motion a fierce battle for national unity between Quebec and the Rest of Canada, culminating in a referendum on the question. Before we can get to that nail-biting vote, we have to endure interminable, acrimonious negotiations between Quebec and Canada that take up far too many pages. Luckily we have a subplot which switches continents to check in on the story of Rashida, an “exotic Arab Terrorist” whose ugliness is cured by the miracle of plastic surgery, allowing her to enjoy a jet-set vacation in a casino in the South of France. Oh, and to attempt an assassination, the outcome of which will set events in motion that will solve problems in the UK and by extension, defuse the Canadian Unity crisis. There are casualties, chief among them Jeremy Sands, who loses his position as PM to hawkish Marion Thrasher. Coincidentally, not only does her name sound like Margaret Thatcher, but she looks and acts like her to. Serendipity indeed. B-

E.P. Taylor: The Biography of Edward Plunket Taylor (1978)
In 1919, Edward Plunket Taylor is an undergrad at McGill University, penniless except for a vast family fortune. Undeterred, he invents a toaster that toasts both sides at once, a problem that had been solved in 1909. Later, he sets breakfast technology aside and concentrates on consolidating Canada's beer industry, and eliminating all the brands except basically three, because choice is for suckers. He buys lots of other things too. World War II comes, and Taylor takes a dollar-a-year job buying weapons from America for England and makes another fortune, because apparently back then a dollar went a long way. He buys more things because his hunches are always right. He buys race horses, becomes the richest, swellest, most amazing Canadian in all Canada and moves to the Bahamas to avoid paying any taxes, because he loves Canada, but he loves money just a little bit more. Richard Rohmer can't think of enough nice things to say about E.P. Taylor, or give an example of anything nice he ever did, except get rich and meet the Queen. Less of a biography and more of an advertisement for a product with no features, this is Richard Rohmer's dullest, most toadying and gullible book. It reads like the subject is holding the author's family hostage, only without the urgency. F

Balls! (1979)
It’s 1985. As the worst winter storm in American history moves in on Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York State, gas monopoly TransState cuts off 350,000 customers. Twenty thousand people die in Buffalo, a supernatural place of rapidly freezing liquids and car consuming snowdrifts. Everyone else is spared, save newly installed American president Hugh Baker who makes the mistake of visiting the city. Those who aren’t dead agree that the government’s lax industry regulations are to blame. Sam Harris, the head of TransState is fired, but that’s only because his mother is Jewish. President John Hansen, Baker’s successor, inherits a country at “its weakest point since the Revolution.” He comes up with a “very clever” plan that involves stealing Canadian technology to transport natural gas by tanker. The gas is Canadian, too, which leads to another ultimatum: Give us your natural gas… or else! This time the Canadians acquiesce. Crisis averted. Hansen is allowed five paragraphs in which to enjoy his victory before being informed by his Secretary of State that the Soviets are shipping nuclear arms to Cuba. “It’s 1962 all over again!” C+

Periscope Red (1980)
1962? No, it’s still 1985. Another three weeks have passed in the Hansen presidency; the Buffalo Disaster and Cuban Missile Crisis II are so last month that they're never mentioned. Besides, President Hansen has more pressing problems: blue-eyed Palestinian Said Kassem is blowing up tankers in the Persian Gulf as Soviet submarines do the same on the Atlantic. If allowed to continue, this could lead to an energy crisis of similar magnitude to the one that consumed Balls!… the one no one mentions. Just to make sure, Hansen commissions a study. Having more or less occupied Afghanistan, Soviet Chairman Romanov tips his hand, telling Hansen that his next move will be to invade the entire Middle East. Hansen orders nuclear strikes on Soviet military installations, prompting the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to announce a military coup. C

Poems (1980) F

Separation Two (1981)
See Separation; add hit man. C-

Patton's Gap (1981)
Young Richard Rohmer flies a P-51 Mustang over D-Day. He needs two pillows to see out the cockpit and when he’s introduced to Lieutenant General George S. Patton Jr., Patton thinks he’s a baby or a puppet or something. Rohmer exchanges blows with an English woman who runs a whorehouse and later, at a French chateau, his buddies dump sewage on him in the toilet. He meets Dirk Bogarde. The Allies drive the Germans out of Normandy, but not as fast as Rohmer would like and, in a Rohmer trademark last-line-in-the-book shocker, he blames… General… Montgomery. C

Triad (1982)
This sequel to Periscope Red begins with the prospect of a military coup in the United States. Imagine! Then keep imagining. Never happens. Doesn’t even come close. You can forget about nuclear war, too. Just as American missiles are about to launch, vast oil reserves are discovered in the Soviet Union and Chairman Romanov calls off his planned invasion of the Middle East. A relieved President Hansen reboots their relationship; the mass murder of foreign nationals days earlier is never mentioned. In other news, a young Afghan bride is raped and widowed on her wedding day and a mercenary fighter pilot drops a nuclear bomb in Iran. Hansen proposes that the United States, Soviet Union and China join forces to threaten other countries into giving up their nuclear weapons. Prime Minister Margaret Thrasher of the United Kingdom isn’t keen, François Mitterrand is disdainful, but Canadian prime minister Louis Turcot is eager to broker the deal. The United States, Soviet Union and China now control the world. This is portrayed as a good thing. C

Retaliation (1982)
Paul James, former banker, decides two large Canadian banks should buy 51% of two huge American banks. This sounds good to the two Canadian banks, so they and the House of Saud spend $3 billion U.S. to do exactly that. The glasses-wearing daughter of James’ Swiss banker is kidnapped by mobbed-up Italians, but recovered by the Black Brigade, a highly trained cadre of highly-trained former members of Britain’s SAS, a regiment known for high training. Meanwhile, in Washington and Ottawa, the game of power politics is played at the highest level. How will this affect James’ plan? Not at all, as it turns out. C

How to Write a Best Seller (1984)
The first thing How to Write a Be$t $eller makes clear is that what you want to write is a Best Seller; who would want to write any other kind of book? Rohmer then proceeds to outline the formula that will allow you into his world, where everything he dictates rockets up the Best Seller lists. At least in Canada. That formula is as follows:
  • Do a lot of research - maybe it's better if you hire a researcher. (Why don't you?)
  • Invent the plot - use two or three to make the story more interesting (But just make sure they mesh!).
  • Create character types - avoid anything but broad strokes here, as you would otherwise slow down the action. (helpful hint: "use action words wherever possible")
  • Add sex and appropriate language. (another helpful hint: "use dialogue whenever possible to replace otherwise boring descriptive passages". Be sure to ignore this hint at the first opportunity - you didn't pay that researcher for nothing!).
Mix all elements together and dictate your novel. Hire a typist to transcribe. Rewrite if necessary, but be wary of meddling editors, unless you have hired your own. Find a publisher, but beware - they are usually staffed by Orcs who would rather slay you in battle than publish your book. Make sure you and your agent negotiate a contract that lets you make sure your book is the way you want it, from design to the final draft. After all, by reading this book you know how to write a Best Seller - don't let the Publishing Industry tell you otherwise. Go on tour to promote the book. It is likely - no, almost guaranteed - that your book will be a Best Seller. Lather, rinse, repeat. A-

Massacre 747 (1984)
How did a Korean Air Lines 747 end up over a Soviet rocket base in Kamchatka, and what did the Russians know when they shot it down? Richard Rohmer investigates by reading the newspaper. (The Russians won’t talk to him, and neither will the Koreans, but Air Canada does let him ride in a flight simulator in Toronto.) Rohmer’s conclusions? KAL encouraged its pilots to take short cuts to save fuel, even if it meant lying about their routes (“good, sound, hard-driving management actions”) and the “paranoid soviets” ("vodka") knew they were chasing a civilian airliner, and blew it up anyway. C-

Starmageddon (1986)
In the future, the superpowers coexist in an uneasy state of stardétente. One night, on the Bering Sea, the captain of an American spy ship catches a man in his cabin, strangles him and tosses him overboard. This never comes up again. Later, in an unrelated incident, Russians board the ship looking for stuff but don’t find any. The man who sends spy planes to overfly the incident turns out to be an old friend. This never comes up again. Meanwhile at the White House, the Japanese are mad as hell about a new tariff on auto imports that never comes up again. The Vice President has to get to Korea in a hurry, but America is out of Air Force Oneses – a multi-book preoccupation of Richard Rohmer’s – so she flies commercial. The 747 drifts into Soviet airspace and is destroyed. The President – devastated by the death of the Vice President, and the loss of her frequent flyer miles – activates America’s star wars missile shield and nukes the hub of Russia’s star wars missile shield. The Russians attempt to nuke America and fail because, hey, star wars missile shield. The Russians issue an ULTIMATUM to West Germany: Surrender. The President issues an ULTIMATUM to Russia: Don’t invade West Germany. Who will blink first? C-

Rommel and Patton (1986)
The Desert Fox dominates the first half of this novel, only to be taken out of action by the author. Again (see: Epilogue). Feldmarschall Günther von Kluge takes his place, attempting to negotiate an armistice on the Western Front with uniform fetishist General George S. Patton, Jr. Rommel… Kluge… it makes no difference. Rommel and Patton lays the Great Man theory to rest, unless one considers Stalin a great man.
   The most self-serving work of fiction in Canadian literature, the novel offers another opportunity for Rohmer to explore his pet theory that General Bernard Law Montgomery was to blame for the Falaise Gap. “It was Montgomery! History will prove I’m right someday”,  the fictional Patton cries. In the author’s imagination Old Blood and Guts is proven right by none other than Richard Rohmer (see: Patton's Gap). D

Red Arctic (1989)
Canada doesn’t spend nearly enough money on jet fighters and nuclear submarines, so when evidence emerges that 18th-century Russian explorers laid claim to the Canadian far north, all Canada can do is sit there and eat it. A cover-up, orchestrated by the Prime Minister’s Office (“That man is out to lunch!”), the RCMP, and the York University Russian department fails because York University turns out to be a honey trap, riddled with KGB sex agents. This being a Richard Rohmer novel, it all comes down to an ULTIMATUM (“Give us the Arctic!”) and a counter-ULTIMATUM (“No way! Get out of the Arctic!’) because why mess with a formula that works. C+

John A.'s Crusade (1995)
Though rich in anachronisms, John A.’s Crusade reads like a historical novel written by one familiar with the genre; as such, it may very well be Richard Rohmer’s most competent book. Set during the London Conference, it casts Canada’s first prime minister as the Busiest Man in England, a title that would one day be held by fellow Kingstonian Grant Allen. Macdonald works at negotiating Confederation, survives a Fenian attack, pitches woo, marries and – the current publisher would like to point out – enjoys an overnight stay at Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle. But the real action takes place on the Continent, with Macdonald making secret trips to Paris and St. Petersburg in an attempt to purchase Alaska. Will he succeed? The ending comes as no surprise. B

Death by Deficit (1995)
It’s the future. We know this because Quebec has separated and Colin Powell is President of the United States. In Canada, electors turn to Richard -------------, leader of a new party created by the merger of Reform and the Progressive Conservatives. Saturday morning cartoons are disrupted by the swearing in ceremony. Sunday, “cram day”, finds the new PM in bed with sexy GG Pearl McConachie. On Monday everything goes to hell. Canada has accumulated too much debt and suddenly everyone is cashing in their bonds. What’s a new PM to do? Turn to the Americans, of course. Richard calls upon the Chairman of the Federal Reserve to help guide him through the mess caused by “lying bastard” Paul Martin and others. Weinstock’s solution – known as The Weinstock Solution – has the United States assume Canada’s debt in exchange for water, culture and, oh, British Columbia. Other solutions? Well, the IMF is prepared to buy time in providing $10 billion if Richard gets rid of provincial governments. There’s something else proposed by someone overseas named Buchanan. Details are a bit vague, but that’s only because no one bothers to give him a call. Which will the PM choose?
     Really, which one? It’s on this question that the climax rides. The answer comes on the final page. No dénouement. Austerity, you understand. D+

Golden Phoenix: The Biography of Peter Munk (1999)
Peter Munk, ransomed from the Nazis as a child, grows up and goes into the oil, gold and resorts business with horrible people. Along the way, he buys an island, starts a pretty cool record player company and tries to make color TVs in the Maritimes. Sound interesting? Not the way Richard Rohmer tells it. C-

Caged Eagle (2002)
Garth “Gator” Peters, senator, war hero, sex machine and the richest man in Canada, reflects on his life from a prison cell in the Rockies on the eve of 9/11. His story begins in wartime London where boy (Gator) meets girl (the fabulous Cockney sexpot Julie Roberts) boy loses girl (she marries his squadron mate, simple Ontario farm boy Mark Tyler) and boy gets her again when Tyler dies over Patton’s Gap. Then it turns out that Tyler wasn’t really a farm boy, but the heir to the greatest fortune in Canada, and when Gator marries Julie, he gets it all. He can’t help it if he’s lucky. Decades later, Julie is impaled on a moose and her daughter, Louise, fights Gator for control of the Tyler empire.
     With the generous support of The Canada Council and the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program, a small Newfoundland press publishes a book containing the sentence: “Who does the Senator have in his current stable in this centre of carnal iniquity that’s seen so many members of Parliament and indeed the Senate lose their – shall I call it moral virginity, once they have their seats in the hallowed House of Commons or the Silly Senate?”
     Who indeed. A-

Raleigh on the Rocks: The Canada Shipwreck of HMS Raleigh (2003)
The heavy cruiser HMS Raleigh is transiting the Labrador Straights in a fog in 1922 and gets stuck on a rock and can’t get off, inspiring the Rolling Stones to write 'Rocks Off,' the opening track of their seminal 1972 double album, Exile on Main Street:
Feel so hypnotized, can't describe the scene.Feel so mesmerized all that inside me.The sunshine bores the daylights out of me.Chasing shadows moonlight mystery.Headed for the overload,Splattered on the dirty road,Kick me like you've kicked before,I can't even feel the pain no more.But I only get my rocks off while I'm dreaming,I only get my rocks off while I'm sleeping.
Richard Rohmer covers the same ground, and the subsequent court martial of the ship’s captain, in a book that’s hardly a book at all. Barely a paste-up job, like Massacre 747 and a real comedown from Patton’s Gap, where Günther von Kluge, among others, rode a tank and held a general’s rank, when the blitzkrieg raged and the bodies stank. F
  
Generally Speaking (2004)
Richard Rohmer’s father, a loveable bounder, plays in the Grey Cup and uses the attendant good will to get ahead in business. Young Rohmer joins the RCAF, makes valuable connections, and then pursues a post-war career as an amiable and civic-minded political fixer. He invents and patents the portable gas station. He meets Ike, Patton, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Di, Farley Mowat, John Diefenbaker and Rosemary Clooney, but not at the same time. He gives a speech about how Canada couldn’t repel an airborne invasion from the Soviet Union, and is encouraged to leave the Reserves. Later they let him back in. One time, Prime Minister Trudeau attends a slide show Rohmer is giving about a plan to relocate Canada roughly 500 miles to the north of where it presently sits. Trudeau doesn’t follow up. Another time, Rohmer is going to a party and realizes, what with one thing and another, that he’s allowed to wear an admiral’s uniform, which he does. He becomes chancellor of a university, and gives honorary degrees to many useful and influential people, and when he hears that the Canadian publishing industry is in trouble, he arranges financial aid and protectionist legislation, and subsequently starts publishing books as fast as he can dictate them. C

No comments:

Post a Comment