Tales of the (River) City and other stories

The Garneau Block, Todd Babiak, 2006

You know that kind of story genre that’s a whole series of newspaper-column-length chapters? Like Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City and sequels, Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series, and so on.

I just discovered that a newspaper columnist here, someone whose tweets I sometimes follow, wrote a book like that about five years ago. I found it when I was looking for library books to stick on my kobo for my trip last weekend.

It turned out that it’s a very funny sendup of the institutions and character archetypes of this city and mostly the parts between my home and my work. Of course because it’s five years old, there are some dated lines like how if you want to oppose the Conservatives around here of course you join the Liberal party even if you’re a communist or something. But otherwise I enjoyed it for the recognition just as much as I enjoyed it for the story.

I love this place.


Following on from The Garneau Block, I’ve since read two more novels set in versions of my usual orbit of Edmonton. The protagonist of one seemed to be living at around 108 Street and 87 Avenue; the other was a bit harder to place and could be anywhere from 109 to Bonnie Doon, somewhere between Whyte Ave and the river. Maybe all of these people did their writing in Remedy and looked out the window for their settings.

Gayleen Froese, Grayling Cross, 2011: This is the kind of supernatural+detectives story that people like Tanya Huff and Mercedes Lackey have done well. A psychic and a public-relations specialist have an agency, and get tangled up with big mysterious powers. It wasn’t as good as Summon the Keeper, the Tanya Huff book set in our old neighbourhood in Kingston, but it was fun. Turns out it’s second in a series, and I’ll probably look for the other one.

Janice MacDonald, The Monitor, 2003: Another recurring feature in all three books about this neighbourhood is that they all include characters who would like to be U of A academics and aren’t. Sigh. Anyway, this one is a more straightforward amateur-detective-with-cop-boyfriend thing, part of a series. The weird thing is that it’s a book about internet chat rooms set about 10 years ago I think and copyright 8 years ago. So some of it is really dated, the stuff the author has to explain, the number of characters who aren’t on the net at all, etc. And I was never involved in any kind of internet-socialising thing that was quite as flirt-heavy as what was described, but other features sound credible. Some things near the end were annoying me, but not so much that I want to spoil the book for anyone else who might feel like reading it. Again, I’d probably read the rest of the series but I wouldn’t buy hardcovers.

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