Thursday, September 30, 2010

Farewell, Your Excellency

Michaëlle Jean completes her five-year term as Canada’s Governor-General on Oct. 1, 2010.

The Queen’s representative began her term with a trip to Winnipeg.

A former Radio-Canada journalist, she asked to meet journalism students. So on Oct. 19, 2005 a well-dressed and nervous group of Creative Communications students and I met the Governor-General at Winnipeg city hall.

She smiled gamely and spoke graciously to each of us. As RCMP bodyguards hovered, she asked the students about their studies and encouraged them to use journalism to promote human rights.

Whatever you think of the monarchy – and the Queen’s offspring have frequently revealed themselves as genial idiots – Ms. Jean is different.

Born in Haiti, she represents not so much the weight of British tradition as the current Canada of smart, successful immigrants.

Twice my wife and I had dinner with her (and a hundred other close friends) at Rideau Hall when she presented the annual Michener Awards for public service journalism of which I was a judge.

I can testify that Ms. Jean was much more personable than her three predecessors (although Roméo LeBlanc knew how to have a good time, too).

And keeping Stephen Harper waiting for two hours when he begged her to prorogue Parliament in 2008?


Monday, September 27, 2010

Wham, bam, write you, ma'am

I could have made myself a better person by attending the CBC open house on the weekend, but I read James Ellroy’s latest book instead.

The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women is Ellroy’s 18th book, a hard-boiled memoir by America’s king of the hard-boiled, or noir, or whatever you want to call his time-shifting, in-your-face and violent style.

Perhaps his best known novel is L.A. Confidential, which was made into an Academy Award-winning movie.

Geneva (Jean) Hilliker was murdered in Los Angeles in 1958. That crime has never been solved, but it has yielded a literary and financial bonanza for Ellroy, her son. By inventing a curse on himself Ellroy has blessed his bank account and those of a couple of ex-wives.

Erika Schickel, Ellroy’s current squeeze and, he swears, his last, buys into this curse thing. Her Zocalo Public Square interview with him is painful but compelling.

Hilliker’s tawdry life and gory end, played out amid the racism and brutality of the 1950s City of Angels, loom over much of Ellroy’s earlier work. He conflates his mother with Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia of unsolved-murder fame.

“It’s been a fever dream,” Ellroy acknowledges in this book. He reprises his life as a burglar, drug addict and peeper that he has described in an earlier memoir, My Dark Places.

The Hilliker Curse chronicles Ellroy’s caveman-style romantic successes and failures, with plenty of names, places and dates.

Reading it makes me feel unclean. But I will keep reading everything this guy publishes. It’s more vigorous than almost any other current literature.

Ellroy’s declared motivation for invoking this curse and writing this book?

“So women will love me.”

Good luck with that.