Friday, July 18, 2008

King Leary

The title suggests tragedy, and indeed lives are ruined and the book ends in blood and death, but the allusion to King Lear is somewhat misleading, for the book was awarded the 1988 Leacock Medal for Humour.

The title is more firmly a reference to Francis Michael Clancy, to whom the book is dedicated, and whose life and nickname (King Clancy) provided a rough template for the character of Percy Leary, a slightly-built professional hockey player known for his speed and grit. Like Clancy, Leary played for Ottawa, was involved in a game during which he played all positions (including goal), and ended up in management with Toronto.

Yet according to the author, King Leary is not about hockey. It's "ultimately about winter, that thing that defines us most eloquently as Canadians." This sentiment is reflected in the epigraph from A Winter's Tale:

A sad tale's best for winter.
I have one of sprites and goblins.

The book's humour comes from Leary himself, who has a distinctive grammatically-challenged way of expressing himself: "I amn't sure," he says, and "my peepers is shut." People are "mooks" and "goomers." Toronto's team is the "Maple Leaves."

One of the best things about the book are the magical hockey-playing monks -- the epigraph's "sprites and goblins." And there are plenty of great lines:

Mrs. Ames gives us a look that could crack nuts.
His eyes looked like stones left over from digging a grave.
I twist him around so good his socks end up on different feet.
I was so full of ginger I could make a horse sneeze at thirty paces.