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As for Me and My Body: A Memoir of Sinclair Ross

by Keath Fraser

Early in this memoir, Keath Fraser writes of his subject, “He resisted summary. He took his own measure from a world often foreign to his, the straight world or else another country’s culture, and seldom let on that a crisis of identity had been his abiding condition since childhood.” That’s a promising start to a character sketch of Sinclair Ross, one of Canada’s most revered writers. Numerous times, Fraser refers to their friendship – the movies they attended, the luncheons they shared, the books they discussed – but Ross’s character remains amazingly shallow. Describing Ross as misogynistic, vain, mildly deceptive, judgmental and willful, the memoir turns into an exposé, then an essay in biographical literary criticism.

Although Fraser met Ross almost 30 years ago, he concentrates on Ross’s confessions during his hospitalization for Parkinson’s disease from the late 1980s until his death in 1996. A man known for his shyness and reticence, during these last years of his life he began to talk about his homosexuality. In Fraser’s words, “He’d become obsessed with sex, at least with talking about it, as if some powerful aphrodisiac had inexplicably released into him the glandular dream-life of a 20-year-old convict with sideburns and a pectoral tattoo showing the genitalia of an Arabian stallion.”

Ross first admitted his attraction to young men after a serious fall a few years before his admittance to extended care. His unprecedented intimacy, Fraser suggests, may have been due to the trauma of the accident but also to the excessive dopamine in his brain. In Ross’s ribald hospital confessions as well, Fraser admits “No doubt his medication was having its way again.” He goes on to say, “But this time horniness had supplanted excessive depression … He said things he probably shouldn’t have, and surrendered at times to a harmless but licentious abandon with orderlies and acquaintances. He began to allude to the size of his cock, which he was vain about, and his hand would nestle in his lap.”

Ross’s famous discretion about his personal life made me wonder if his intimacies were intended as private revelations to a loyal friend, prompted by a deathbed desire that someone know him well. Was it fair to reveal his secrets? The circumstances surrounding his uncharacteristic revelations lead me to a more disturbing question: would Ross have been so open if he hadn’t been medicated and in an advanced stage of Parkinson’s?

In a world where people tell all, from Princess Di’s bodyguard to Anne Sexton’s daughter, my first question sounds somewhat naive. Following the critical school that uses new biographical information to revisit literary texts, Fraser justifies his memoir by reinterpreting several of Ross’s works, includingAs for Me and My House. He’s intriguing when he speaks of Ross’s divided self reflected in the plot and characters, and lucid when he discusses the novel’s dramatic flaws. However, his insistence that Philip is gay and that Mrs. Bentley has known this all along remains unconvincing. His thesis diminishes the complexity of her character and undermines the parallel between the couple’s loveless heterosexual marriage and the artistic and spiritual poverty of the Dirty Thirties. The ultimate oversimplification of both characters and plot is evident in Fraser’s summation: “The novel on one level is a wet dream.” If so, it would certainly be one of the novel’s greatest ironies, since the rain had not fallen in the mythical town of Horizon for five long years.


Reviewer: Lorna Crozier

Publisher: ECW


Price: $12.95

Page Count: 96 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-55022-310-0

Released: Mar.

Issue Date: 1997-2

Categories: Memoir & Biography