Canadian cities, this one included, seem defined by winter or at least the colder times of year. So when the sun and heat does arrive we are caught physically and psychologically off-guard.
The Toronto of Darren O’Donnell’s 2004 novel, Your Secrets Sleep With Me tries desperately to cope with summer. Throw in a refugee crisis from a paranoid USA, a freak tornado which castrates that phallic tower near the lake, an increasingly disturbed government and freak religious occurrences and you get a picture of a city on edge.
O’Donnell’s fictional and surreal Toronto resembles ours physically, the street names are the same, and many of the landmarks are there. But more importantly, it resembles our city subconsciously, capturing that psychic tension in a city coping with its second straight week of asphalt liquefying heat, a city where the infirm stay inside because of smog alerts and the rich stay cocooned in a blanket of artificially cooled air.
O’Donnell’s Toronto, like ours, is a teenager “pubescent, a little nervous; masking shyness with a performance of aloofness; snooty but universally so and born only of an unawareness of just how beautiful it is. Still, efforts to distinguish oneself from forces that can be considered parental are reactionary, and ultimately ugly. So, it’s an ugly beautiful city; a shy city; a city that has a hard time saying hello to acquaintances. A sad city. A lonely city.” A city prone to failed exercises in “branding” itself and sudden makeovers, and uncertain identities. It is a Toronto perhaps re-imagined by Salman Rushdie. Filled with slightly unsettling acts of “magic” but at the heart uncomfortably accurate.
Summer reading has always been considered a time for light reading. Somehow, the comfort of sitting by the lake, or if you’re lucky, the seaside excuses you from reading anything the least bit challenging. Summers in the city, don’t give you that privilege. For those of us who have to stay among the shimmering asphalt and blinding towers O’Donnell’s novel might just be an eerily appropriate read.