Sunday, 16 March 2014

So, we're finished with book #6, right?

Of the twenty-five or so remaining Rohmers, the one I most want to read is How to Write a Bestseller, because Balls! has planted an idea: Rohmer begins his books with the ending in mind, but has no clue as to how he’ll reach same. This hardly matters because every false start and each dead end contains something he wants to impart. I doubt the man has ever cut so much as a sentence in his entire career.

Balls! is the least Canadian Rohmer thus far. The novel’s hero, Sam Harris Joey Kowal Hugh Baker John Hansen Mark James, is an American. Canada doesn’t even come into play until page 163. Though White House staff advise otherwise, Albertan Peter Lougheed Lockhart, the prime minister, is a patsy, always at the ready to fly down to Washington. Hansen calls him Peter; Lockhart calls Hansen Mr. President. That the prime minister's unfounded fears of American invasion and annexation prove to be correct is a fluke, supported by the author's oddly skewed world view. In Rohmer’s geopolitical reality, Canada is in a perpetual state of threat because the Americans want our energy. The reaction of the Soviets, the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, and the United Nations to American invasion and annexation is never considered.

A queer anti-government vein runs through Rohmer's big Balls! (his biggest novel thus far). TransState shuts off the heat in 350,000 homes before bothering to inform New York's Governor Sharpe. Company president Sam Harris is kind enough to offer advice: “The question of how to handle this from the people’s point of view – emergency measures, the National Guard, the Army, the federal government, police, traffic, telling people what to do and getting them organized – that’s your bag, sir.”

Uncle Mike talks back to the TV, demanding that Sharpe fix an hours-old crisis that is the fault entirely of private industry. Meanwhile, nephew Joey announces that he will not - will not! - take his wife and infant twins to an emergency government shelter. He gives his brilliant middle finger to the Governor, Sharpe's advice and his offer of support, then takes to the road in a dangerously overloaded station wagon. Minutes later, finding himself stuck in a supernatural snowdrift, Joey expects government rescue. It never comes. So much for the Nanny State.

I wonder whether Joey’s lack of faith in Sharpe might have something to do with the fact that Rohmer's leaders of men, businessman and politicians exclusively, are forever throwing hyperbole into hyperdrive:
  • “What we’re listening to is probably the most important decision outside a declaration of war,” says swinging bachelor Angelo Grazzi as his company shuts off supply lines.
  • Governor Sharpe considers the loss of heat in 350,000 homes “the most profound crisis and emergency the country has ever seen.” He will later describe same as “the worst single disaster that has ever occurred in this country.”
  • Vice-President Mark James tells the President that the country may be at “its weakest point since the Revolution.”
The Civil War can’t compare. American lives lost in the Spanish Flu Pandemic are forgotten.

The greatest tragedy in Balls! is that the Buffalo Disaster could have been avoided if only the President had chosen a career the energy industry instead of politics. Don't take my word for it - no less an expert than Petro-Canada president Bill Hooper describes the politician's off-the-cuff tanker plan as “Clever, very clever. Ingenious!”

What is that plan? Purchase and retrofit underused ships to carry natural gas.

Of course! [head slap]

The United States government will do what the private sector won’t. It will spend billions to get gas to Americans, righting a dangerous situation created by the energy companies. Lest you think that the country is descending into socialism, Vice-President James reassures: “We believe in the free enterprise system. So we’ll get out as quickly as we can.”

God Bless America.

Q: If, as Governor Sharpe states, the lives of close to a million Americans in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York State are at risk, how is it that loss of life is limited to the City of Buffalo?

And on that note, the revised Richard Rohmer Body Count:
Ultimatum: 1
Exxoneration: 200 (approx.)
Exodus/UK: 18*
Separation: 5
Separation Two: 1**
Balls!: 19,228***
* 17 according to Separation;18 according to Separation Two.
** does not include deaths first described in Separation, which is “the same book, yet different.”
*** may or may not include the 40th President of the United States.


  1. I've been done for nearly a week so I think you can up that clicker to 6.

    I like your theory of RR starting with the endings and working backwards, but I think it's more a series of big events ("What if 20,000 people in Buffalo froze to death?""What if a president came up with a unique energy solution and had the political will to see it through" etc. etc.) and then something ties them together. Oh - and some characters are added to give the story some character.

    Speaking of endings - what was that "it's Havana '62 all over again!" all about? Was this supposed to make you wonder what happens next? How could you when there simply aren't enough energy reserves in Cuba to make the missile crisis redux work.

    I will confess something here - I am certainly more aware of stories about energy than ever before - just today I started reading about Quebec's natural gas reserves in the North before I stopped myself.

  2. Rohmer's Cuban Missile Crisis Revisited is meant to set up "the triumphant successor to Balls!". Here I'm quoting copy on the Periscope Red paperback, which describes same as "Richard Rohmer's most compelling and ambitious novel". That I can't get too excited might have something to do with this: "Again Richard Rohmer deftly reveals his insider's knowledge of the energy industry".

    Oh, man. Again.

    The pitch also informs that Periscope Red is sure to be an international best seller. But, um, I'm looking at the paperback of a book published the previous year. Shouldn't we already know?

    It wasn't, by the way.