My Trouble With Books:& Other Works of Short Fiction

Book Review

My Trouble With Books:& Other Works of Short Fiction

By Roger McTair

Publisher: Creation Company, Toronto

Reviewed by Mahadeo Bissoon

Roger McTair

Roger McTair may have trouble with books but he has no trouble with words. This collection of thirteen short stories offers a sumptuous buffet of literary satisfactions. McTair handles the stories with wit, humour and compassion. He has one foot in the Trinidad past and the other foot firmly standing on Queen Street in Toronto where he prowled for books of all kinds, used and new. He was not able to part with any from his stacked shelves in his crowded apartment. That explains his trouble with books when he tried to thin out his collection at a used book store and then bought them back at three times the price he got. That was touching and poignantly funny. The seller got bitten for his betrayal of his loved ones.

There are other passions that reveal themselves in the other stories. The pain is masked by this   master of the ironic. Each story is polished here as a ruby, there as a sapphire.The titles give not a clue about the writer’s intent or what’s in store for the reader who must read on. Then in his quirky style, he adds another page to round off the story when it seems quite done.

The one titled Concrete is about concrete poetry with a mason in the crowded backseat of a St James taxi. All kinds of opinions are vented by the driver, the impatient youth who wants calypso not the government program discussing the poet’s work who only blurts out his identity in annoyance. What puts icing on the cake is the very Christian lady who shouts “filth and abomination, vice and corruption” from her cramped pulpit in the Vauxhall Victor.

“At Union Station” tells of a mother seeing her daughter off to university. But the story is not about the daughter but the mother who in now alone in her later years. Her husband had left for a younger woman. When the train leaves she watches a sheet of newspaper climbing the heights of the Royal Bank tower and then failed with the wind to settle in front the Royal York. She hesitates to ‘return to an empty echoing house’.  The approach is oblique and the surprise of emptiness is like newspaper on the wind on Front Street.

‘Vocations’ lays out the story of a fallen nun, now an alcoholic and the love interest of two friends who have to accept her becoming a ghostly derelict haunting an empty downtown Toronto  neighbourhood. Another female friend takes him to Mississauga from the Kipling subway and he ‘watched Mississauga rolled by the way the forty years he had lived in Canada had rolled by’. She too had been a nun but had decided to come out of a bad habit and find a life. The other was a great looker and dresser but ‘men had died on her’ or betrayed her. Much more is woven into this story as in all the others. The two men friends are rejoined and come to terms over their rivalry for the fallen nun.  Love will now grow in Mississauga.

McTair faces our dark ugly side in ‘Short Back and Sides’ where soldiers with righteous power and hate first bludgeon the heads of dreadlocked young men with batons and then scissor off their locks during the emergency of the 1970 coup in Trinidad.

In another story the father tells the son he cannot be Polly Umrigar or Gavaskar even as he plays cricket with his young Indo friends and goes through the hole in the fence for roti and massala goat heavily spooned onto his plate by the mother who sends him home with roti.

‘Preysal’ shows a Bobby Sookram look alike outplaying a visiting Belmont team. The better side wins and race takes a backseat where it belongs. Was there a need for Black Power in Trinidad where most governments have been black since independence? Some day Eric Williams may be seen not as a leader, the Messiah setting up the “recalcitrant minority” of Indo-Trinis to divide and rule, a Pied Piper who played us under the waters of the Gulf of Paria. We have not recovered from this poisoning but keep adding more to assure our joint destruction.

In a short  review like this, it is not possible to detail the nuances of the stories which are so deliberately woven and textured so the people and places come alive with all their humanity, warts and all.

His passions were not just for books but for sport, for music, for food, for love too. He taught at Seneca College and made documentaries. A man of multiple talents and gifts with a Trini voice for laughter and an embrace for ‘all ah we’.