I took a brief break from my usual grab-bag of dick jokes and baseball statistics twisted into dick jokes because I had the privilege of interviewing Canadian author Andrew Hood. Hood received the 2007 Danuta Gleed Literary Award for his first book, the short story collection Pardon Our Monsters.
Pardon Our Monsters's stories are all set in the fictional southwestern Ontario town of Corbet; which isn't on the map but can be found wherever there are lakes to swim in, basement apartments to get high in, and baseball diamonds to kill time on. The collection reads like a veritable roadmap of the maturation-with-great-reluctance process. Various stages and ages are represented, but the interactions and feelings always ring true, even if they aren't the most noble or altruistic. From the pure and unspoiled hatred of the fat obnoxious bully down the street, the all-consuming love of an older brother and the Toronto Blue Jays, or the uneasy feeling of having a semi-serious girlfriend for all the wrong reasons; these stories evoke the full range of stunted and confused adolescent emotions.
Andrew and I exchanged emails about baseball as life, the Canadian zeitgeist represented by the pre-World Series Blue Jays, and our inner monsters. He was awesome enough to include a picture he drew and sent to his favorite player as a kid. You can see the autographed and returned (justification of favorite player status if anything was) below.
Lloyd the Barber: Describe your connection to the game of baseball, and why you think it appears so frequently in Pardon Our Monsters?
Andrew Hood: I played ball until it got too serious, and maybe spent a bit too much time in the watershed between where it’s treated like a game and where it’s treated like a sport. There’s that point where everyone turns either earnest and testy or bored and lackadaisical, where the players that are really good start resenting you for not being as good as they are or for dicking around and the parents of those kids start pulling the coach aside to suggest they encourage the less-good players to quit already so their superstar child can hone their prowess unencumbered. For me, playing baseball was kind of like going to church: it was something my parents wanted me to do for experience’s sake, and when I was old enough (around 12-ish for baseball, I guess—and 9-ish for church) I made the adult decision to stop going. At that time, my thing was drawing, and this hand eye co-ordination made me a fair pitcher, I think—though I could only hurl for two or three innings before my arm gave up—and as a batter I was terrified of being hit by the ball, so I struck out consistently, sticking me in the middle of being an okay-enough sport but a listless player. I never watched baseball on TV much, though I collected the cards. Let’s say that I liked baseball, but didn’t care about it.
I honestly can’t say why baseball kept creeping up in that period of my writing. I guess it affected me more than I’d figured. From how readers have been reacting—especially men about my age—the experience must be fairly shared, so it’s fortunate that that personal experience can be so relatable. I’d say it’s so prevalent because I hated it so much, but that’s not an apt answer, as that level scrutiny has to suggest some amount of affection, some intimacy and fascination.
Ltb: The Blue Jays of the late 80's and early 90's made an indelible imprint on Canadian people of a certain age. Can you envision a team or sport capturing the attention of nation like that again?
AH: There’s something very Canadian about that period of Jays baseball. As a people we have a real problem with effortless success, so the constant darkhorse struggle of those early years seems perfectly suited for our disposition. For me John Olerud was the perfect Blue Jay; he was as kind as he was skilled; he didn’t steal bases and he kept promises to his mother. And the variations of the team in that period were so motley, were that Canadian Mosaic that we’d had explained to us for all these years. I remember my father relishing the Spanish pronunciation of George (Whore-Hey!) whenever Bell would be at bat. And, in thinking back on that time in Canada, I can’t help but braid the Jays with the Barenaked Ladies: it was a great time of effusive success for something Canadian, and we let ourselves celebrate that. We were identifying ourselves finally with not only prowess (because, of course, we love to say how skilled we are) but now with success.
But I’m only stabbing at things here. I really can’t say what it was about that time. We Canadians love nothing more than to go on and on about how much better we are than the Americans, but I’ll give the States this: they care, and they care fucking loudly, and they show up in droves, and they spend money. Look at our voter turn out this past election, and look at the box office for a Canadian film, and look at the sales of a Canadian book, and look at the attendance at a CFL game. There’s something about our warp and woof that just doesn’t seem to allow us to be passionate and supportive of our own (unless, of course, they make it in America—but that pride is conditional on them mentioning their home town on a talk show). We’ve come to think of this disengaged disposition as patience and politeness, when really, I think it’s something that’s much worse: apathy. We are glutted on American politics, American art, and American sport, and we continue to support America while politely letting out own outputs flounder. What happened with the Jays back then feels like an anomaly, and I think the imprint on people of a certain age is that of an anomalous passion, and I don’t know what—sports, or arts, or politics—could ever animate this place like that again. The States would have to fly our flag upside down again, eh?
LtB: Samantha Fox (who appears in the story Giving up the Ghost as Muchmusic-approved jerkoff fodder - ED) is hot and all, but what about Mitsou? The French Queen of Cancon!
AH: I had to Google Mitsou, so that should answer your question, and I still don’t have much of an idea of who she is or was. I was a bit too young (Ed: it should be noted that this award-winning author is a mere 25 years old, which makes me hate myself just a little) to be into Samantha Fox even, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t aware. My older brother was a fan, even though his musical tastes were better inclined. Did Mitsou ever do Playboy? Because Samantha sure as shit did.
LtB: Would you say that baseball is a monstrous game? Ostensibly it's a team game, but it's all about the individual at it's heart. For example, Fitz (one of the protagonists in the story Chin Music, an unrepentant asshole that hits batters and starts bench-clearing brawls just because he's bored) is an excellent baseball player but likely the worst teammate in history.
AH: Okay: with football and hockey, it’s all about physically stopping a play from happening, but with baseball—yes—it’s about an individual’s performance. A batter hits the ball and a fielder either catches or he doesn’t. In this way it’s an individual sport, sure. The thing about that character Fitz, though, is that he tries to breakdown that individualism which, to me, makes baseball so boring. What are the most exciting incidents possible in a ball game? A runner on third charging a catcher squatting over home plate, ready for him. The collision of runner stealing second and that moment when the dust settles and the umpire hasn’t yet made his call. Remember when Kelly Gruber pulled off that triple play, even though he got hosed on the call? When a fuming pitcher hits a batter to send a message, and that stillness when the batter stares him down, and everyone in attendance is praying for a charge, and maybe even a bench-cleaning brawl on the mound. And these outbursts and flourishes are that much greater when they are swaddled by the tension of individual performance. In that Chin Music story I liken baseball to a conversation, but the role that a player like Fitz plays is turning the conversation into an argument, or screaming match, or even a fist fight—he knows that things are more interesting when they are colliding. I don’t want to say that baseball players are not exceptional athletes—because they are—but I respect their performances like I do the orations of exceptional public speakers.
Baseball is more a performance than it is sport, I think. I’m reluctant to call it monstrous, but okay, it is kind of. Monstrous in as much as I find manners monstrous—manners being little aberrations and betrayals of our natural inclinations; pretensions. Hockey and football and rugby are like a celebration and funneling of what I believe is our inherent violence, but baseball pretty much denies this energy, or at least ignores it. Werner Herzog likes to call civilization a thin layer of ice over an ocean of chaos, and I pretty much agree, and let’s call baseball a light dusting of snow on that ice. Always underneath that sport of polite individuals will be the want of collision, of intercourse, of brutality, and this is the tension that, frankly, can make baseball such a fucking addictive spectacle to watch, I bet.
LtB: What can you tell us about your first novel? Will it usher in a return to the golden age of young adult baseball/drug culture fiction?
AH: Well, don’t tell Literature, but I’m not really working on a novel. The short story is very dear to me, and I’m working towards greater unity within a collection that could maybe be at least advertised as a novel. I don’t know whether baseball will feature much in the stories, but I’m pretty sure that one of the most important scenes will take place on the same day and place that Babe Ruth hit his first homerun: August 3, 1914 on Hanlan’s Point. Correct me if I’m wrong. (Wikipedia says September 5, but who's counting?)
Pardon Our Monsters is available anywhere good books are sold. I can't recommend it highly enough, and I can't thank Andrew Hood enough for taking the time to answer my questions!