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Halbman Steals Home

by B. Glen Rotchin

B. Glen Rotchin has published poetry and criticism, edited a pair of award-winning poetry anthologies, and was nominated for the 2005 Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award for his fiction debut, The Rent Collector. Like that book, his new novel is set in present-day Montreal and draws on the city’s recent history to provide the narrative with a sense of verisimilitude.

Mort Halbman is a Jewish garment manufacturer struggling to come to terms with the dissolution of his family and still mourning the loss of his beloved Montreal Expos. Mort’s ex-wife, Mona, dates an insufferable Canadian book critic; his daughter, much to Mort’s chagrin, has become Orthodox; Jacob, his gay son, is preparing to wed his boyfriend; and Mort, despite himself, can’t get over the destruction of the family home, which burned down under suspicious circumstances. Further complicating matters is the fact that Mort himself appears to be the prime suspect in the arson investigation. The novel, reflecting Mort’s state of mind, careens around, moving back and forth in time and packing quite a bit into its 184 pages. Unfortunately, the story’s episodes and characters are in need of far more development and complexity than Rotchin appears willing to give them.

If there’s one thing that defines this book’s shortcomings, it is the author’s lack of audacity. For instance, the novel devotes many pages to an impending date between Mort and his best friend’s sister, but when it finally happens, the scene doesn’t even try to justify the build-up. The date, devoid of tension or intrigue, functions merely to bring Mort to a restaurant the reader never knew he owned to witness an implausible scene of homosexual lust which, one surmises, is sufficient to radically alter Mort’s perspective on his son’s impending nuptials. 

In place of three-dimensional characters, or something truly at stake to inspire sympathy and interest, we get the highs and lows of the Montreal Expos, a brief foray into some shady dealings in the garment business, and stops at Montreal landmarks like St. Joseph’s Oratory, Mont Royal, and the Snowdon Deli. Similarly, instead of grappling with Mort’s conflicts and reservations regarding his son’s marriage, Rotchin largely sidesteps the whole matter in favour of a few platitudes about choosing one’s own path in life. Here’s hoping Rotchin tackles his next novel with far more energy, depth, and boldness.