Just finished Austin Clarke’s early 1970s novel The Bigger Light. Uncomfortable, and clever. It’s about a man from Barbados, maybe in his 40s, who is a cleaner at a stockbroking firm on Bay Street. The man lives with his wife probably in the relatively new (at the time) St Jamestown apartment complex in Cabbagetown in Toronto. He has a relatively comfortable existence, as his wife works as a nurses’ aide at the Doctors’ Hospital (no longer existing). So they have enough money and a nice apartment. But he is always taunted by others’ success. The discomfort for the reader comes when the protagonist talks about being rich, how he will be noticed, and join clubs and get respect. His first way to get noticed is having his letters to the newspaper published, and he thinks that will catapult him to success. He tries to distance himself from West Indian friends at his club… and he envies the freedom he thinks other Blacks have. Again an excellent novel by the late Clarke. I still feel his real tour de force is his novel More — which has suspense, and racial tensions in Toronto down pat.
In non-fiction I just read Class Action. This book is 17 years old, but the case itself dates back to the late 70s. You read that correctly. Lois Jenson made history when she launched the first class action suit in the US based on sexual harassment. She worked in the Eveleth Mine in the Iron Range town in northern Minnesota. The mine and the town is probably 100 km from Thunder Bay, Ont. And part of the iron range that goes up to Atikokan. The first half of the book is the most fascinating — about her life as a single mother, her poverty and the times in the towns of Eveleth, Virginia and other tough mining towns. While her horrendous harassment started almost from the day she began work in 1975, the law suit was finally ‘won’ in 1998. Imagine that. Her health had deteriorated and she had to leave her job in ’92. Finally there was a group of 15 women litigants, and bits of their stories were revealed in the fascinating 2005 Hollywood film (starring Charlize Theron) called North Country. I encourage you to get the dvd out of the library and watch. All the legal stuff in the book (hundreds of pages of it) left me a bit cold, but on this International Women’s Day, it’s worth remembering Jenson — reading the book, and watching the movie. When I looked on Amazon.ca for the cover of the book to show you, the first thing that popped up was this Power Ranger — of course an “action” toy. How well I remember Optimus Prime from when my eldest son was obsessed by it. How appropriate for IWD 2018.
What is totally in line with corporate speak is the Status of Women page courtesy of the feds —
It’s rather disgusting — there’s the conventional call out & buzzwords (read “innovation”) for girls to go into STEM sciences, there’s the lie about women getting great jobs (what about being able to keep them?? with the harassment and the various transgressions by men at the workplaces). Curiously there is a list of themes for past IWD in Canada. The most political theme was 17 years ago, 2002: Working in Solidarity: Women, Human Rights and Peace.
Has that idea gone the way of the dodo bird, or rather the “innovation” rabbit hole?
And I’ve just read Matt Taibbi’s powerful book I Can’t Breathe. Taibbi’s a journalist, a blogger and a great researcher. He’s a goodwriter too. This is the account of Eric Garner’s 44 year life. Garner is of course the Black American who died in 2014 when he was asphyxiated by a cop on Staten Island in New York City. He had been selling “loosies” or single cigarettes for a dollar or two on the same street corner for years. The cop got off all charges. You have to read this book. Eric’s eldest daughter, Erica, fought for an inquiry and to clear her father’s name for years. But at age 27, she succumbed to a heart attack and died All very shocking. But the book is excellent and worth reading.