The City Man, sounds like a nickname that friends of Howard Akler would give him. After all, the local author co-wrote Toronto: the Unknown City a couple of years back and his new novel looks back at Toronto right at the height of the Great Depression, a city that was cautiously celebrating its centenary and coping with an economic depression.
Akler’s 1930s Toronto is filled with characters like Mona Kantor, a lonely pickpocket and frazzled city reporter Eli Morenz. They’re characters straight out of noir fiction, out of a world filled with hard-boiled cops, shifty underworld contacts and other shady characters. But one that’s made familiar by streets that some of us walk everyday. Torontoist chatted with Akler over e-mail about his novel and Toronto’s past, present and future.
Where did you get the idea for the City Man?
An earlier draft of the book included the character Red Ryan, who was a real-life bank robber in the city in 1935 and even after I cut him out I was so caught up in that era I didn’t want to leave
For me, the early 1930s are the start of modern Toronto. Even though we were still all “god-save-the-king” back then, the flood of newcomers was starting to change the character of the city and places like union station were pretty new. The centenary seemed liked a good place to start.
The book was heavily influenced by noir fiction, people like Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett, can you talk about that a bit?
I haven’t read Chandler in years but I have a soft spot for Hammett. No one ever mentions how funny he is. The opening line of Red Harvest is one of my all-time favourite sentences. but my favourite crime writer is David Goodis. Goodis was a strange sad man who usually wrote about talented tormented loners and all of their obsessions. He wrote some of the worst novels I’ve ever read too, but when he was good, he was real good.
A lot of the book takes place at Union Station, what do you want to see happen to Union?
I was pretty concerned with how the bid to update union was “won” but I think that’s now been allowed to go through, right? hooking union up to pearson via shuttle would be fantastic, but i’m in over my head with the logistics of that stuff
You also co-wrote a book Toronto: the Unknown City what are your three favourite things about this city?
The houses that sit like crooked teeth on Shaw, chinese buns at Yung Sing bakery on Baldwin, and Coach House Books.
Three things you hate?
The “media” tower at Yonge and Dundas, people sleeping in doorways, and Tom Jakobek.
What do you think the city will be like during our bi-centenary, in about 30 years?
Ideally, we’ll have wild architecture and a weakened car culture in the city 30 years from now. Realistically, we’ll probably still be talking about revitalizing the waterfront.
Howard Akler joins other Coach House Books authors at Revival (783 College Street, at Shaw) Wed. Oct. 12 at 8:00 for their Fall Launch.