So after a movie downtown, imagine you and I are sipping coffee outside with the smokers. It's raining, a grey afternoon, and few lights shine from the high-rises, when a man approaches, talking rapidly, smiling, teeth missing, and opens his long coat. He's confused or we are: is he selling clove cigarettes or a computer? We wave him away. Another man flashes plastic under our noses; a credit card for sale? No thanks. Young bearded men jerkily check the ashtrays; one grabs the butts from our table, dipping his fingers greedily into the ashes, not hesitating to put his lips where strangers have sucked. Then a woman with a leg missing below the left knee rolls up in a wheelchair, black hair plastered down by rain. Her left eye is puckered shut, permanently missing, and yet some loveliness clings to her despite the disfigurement. She's about thirty, her voice gravelly, deepened, and she wants a loonie, just a loonie, for the bus. You start rummaging in your purse, but I refuse. She pushes past us, propelling herself with her only foot. A young woman two tables down also refuses, and the unhappy woman wheels back, bumping our table, crying, genuinely crying, her face scrunched in humiliation and outrage. Maybe she does need the loonie for the bus after all.
The November Optimist is almost a love story. Combining fiction, observation and anecdote, its male narrator conjures a dialogue with a woman—his imagined counterpart, his willing or unwilling muse who sometimes lends insight, sometimes remains contrary and elusive. Full of jaunty humanity and black humour, our narrator registers ironies in a light-hearted manner when bemusements arise from his fully engaged citizen-walkabouts and caffeine fantasies. Ordinary events (driving and parking, walking and watching) are transformed by minute representation into something of almost surreal importance. The conversation extends beyond the woman to the city itself, to rain and seasonal change, to books and the escape they offer, the ways they inform what is possible and what is daily. Clouds and quays, neighbours and strangers absorb our narrator, as does fast time in both his city and in himself in this flâneur's look around.
"You captured thoroughly and vividly that internal chatter that ricochets around in the brain when we're out and about experiencing the world: the people and objects and the stories we tell ourselves about everything and most people we see and interact with. Really a fabulous read, and I love the tension created by the address to the longed-for companion. That deft device transforms what might be a ramble into a page-turner! An excellent job."
Tom Wayman on The November Optimist, a personal review