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Heroes

by Ray Robertson

Set against the backdrop of American minor hockey and suburban Toronto, Ray Robertson’s second novel, Heroes, is a pleasurable read, even for the non-sports fan.

Peter Bayle is an Etobicoke-born philosophy grad student who, in part to avoid defending his dissertation on Greek skeptic Sextus Empiricus, accepts a magazine assignment to cover the growth of minor league hockey in the American Midwest.

The bulk of this sublime novel is set in small-town Kansas. Robertson captures the tenor of rural life with a vivid emotional precision comparable to the writing of Matt Cohen. Anyone who has lived in a small town will recognize the uneasy relationships between characters forced to coexist in restrictive surroundings. At first, the supporting characters appear almost clichéd. However, the alcoholic town reporter, the demonized hockey team owner, and the team’s mascot, whose silly warrior costume does not hide her beauty (and to whom Bayle finds himself attracted) all emerge with startling clarity into fully rounded characters with rich histories.

Robertson takes chances with structure and character. Heroes unfolds in an episodic, almost picaresque, manner, a style initially disconcerting but ultimately rewarding. Similarly, Bayle begins the novel as a singularly unlikable character – bitter, aimless, irritatingly erudite, and lacking any personal insight. It is Bayle’s reconciliation with his past (flashbacks of Bayle’s Maple Leafs-loving father and his complex, tortured younger sister are threaded throughout the narrative) and connection with his present that allow him to develop. His bitterness recedes as he recovers from his unfortunate self-absorption.

Heroes unfolds with the complexity and emotional richness of a life actually being lived after years of merely going through the motions. Robertson is to be commended.