Sunday, 23 February 2014

Several years ago - many more than seems possible - I put together six anthologies for Prentice-Hall. CanLit collections, they featured short stories and poetry. The prose writers were a delight to work with, but the poets were a pain. Some wanted absurd amounts for their work - fees that made economic sense if the anthology consisted of their haiku and nothing else. A good many of the poets just couldn't leave well enough alone, insisting on tweaking, tweaking and tweaking the requested poem, demanding to see page proofs, then tweaking some more.

I go on.

What I'm getting at is that Rohmer has a bit of the poet in him. I direct those who might disagree to the bibliography included in Red Arctic, in which we find listed a book of verse titled Images. Where might we find Images? That it was never deposited at Library and Archives Canada, that no Canadian library has a copy, that it receives not a single Google hit should make no never mind - Separation Two is the work of a poet.

Ultimately, it's the work of a businessman. Turns out that Separation Two was born out of disappointing mass market sales of Separation. As is so often the case in Rohmer's fiction, the Americans are at fault. Sandra Martin got a reluctant Rohmer to discuss his rewrite in the 13 June 1981 Globe & Mail:
According to Rohmer, someone at Bantam in New York who knew nothing about Canada and less about art, designed the cover and wrote the copy on the back. Then the book was launched in Canada "without promotion" even though a television film of the book was in the works. The paperback was "a disaster." "It died and when it went out of print about a year ago, the rights reverted to me."
   In the meantime, Rohmer had moved to General Publishing, which wanted to re-release Separation in their PaperJacks line. Rohmer agreed, but suggested the book should be updated. And that's how Separation II, which Rohmer suggests is "the same book yet different," came about. Besides, "I'd never publish a new novel in paperback first," he added.
Okay, a few quick observations:

  • As a kid I owned that Bantam (Bantam/Seal, actually) copy of Separation. I remember it as being far superior to previous paperback covers - Ultimatum, Exxoneration, Exodus/UK - in that it was something more than 72-point type against a grey or white background. (I haven't been able to find an image online - but I'll keep looking.)
  • I very much doubt the unnamed New York-based artist who designed the cover also wrote the back copy. 
  • Rohmer almost certainly did better in not having a tie-in to that gawdawful made-for-TV flick.
  • Oh, for the days in which a three-year mass market run was considered "a disaster."

What I really want to address is the idea that Separation Two is "the same book yet different". No argument there, but why give it a different title? A novelist revisiting a work is not without precedent - hell, Dickens changed the ending to Great Expectations - but can't help but think that PaperJacks was trying to pull a fast one. It really does stink. Nowhere in the cover copy or the copyright page is there a hint that Separation Two is just Separation with a couple of dozen pages added. I mean, c'mon, the author's bibliography lists Separation as if it's something altogether different.

Remember those cheap greatest hits compilations of Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins? Remember the disappointment you'd feel in getting them home only to discover that the recordings were different than the actual hits? Separation is worse. It's as if Bowie had a 1976 album called The Return of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, featuring new recordings and updates of the original songs - "Suffragette City II" would have a disco beat - adding a couple of tracks that didn't quite fit.

Rohmer's defence, that book buyers should know that he would "never publish a new novel in paperback first", is indefensible - doubly so since he's now straight to paper.

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