In his new novel, writer and publisher Michael Mirolla uses the 1970 FLQ crisis as the backdrop for a story about two young people caught up in a relationship they cannot control – one of equal parts passion, mystery, violence, and tenderness.
Giulio and Nicole move to Vancouver after Giulio takes a position as adjunct instructor in the philosophy department at a local university. Canada is on tenterhooks as stories of politically motivated kidnappings emerge from Montreal, but our protagonists learn that Vancouver is also under siege. The city is being rocked by random explosions perpetrated by a local group of anarchists called Pro-form Radicals for the Good.
Giulio soon befriends a student in his class, a hippie named Torp, who is living rough on a beach near Stanley Park, and who may or may not have associations with PFRG. On multiple occasions, Giulio invites Torp to the squalid basement apartment he and Nicole rent, in an attempt to provide a decent meal for the boy and help straighten out his life. Things take a turn when the couple’s landlord – the irascible Mr. Bedner, an eastern European immigrant who speaks in comically broken English – becomes convinced that Torp is some kind of devil.
What unfolds is a series of events that cast Giulio and Nicole into the heart of Vancouver’s hippie underground. Mr. Bedner’s wife dies suddenly and he blames her passing on Torp’s unwelcome presence. Meanwhile, Giulio, Nicole, and Torp enter into a torrid polyamorous relationship, engaging in threesomes underneath Mr. Bedner’s nose (literally). When Torp is arrested under the War Measures Act following a fire at an abandoned warehouse, his disappearance pits Giulio and Nicole against each other as they realize the full impact of their love for this young man.
Mirolla has a keen eye for the dynamics of his characters, and we become deeply invested as the narrative pans back and forth between Giulio and Nicole’s perspectives. Torp also captures an accurate zeitgeist of Vancouver in 1970, skilfully weaving the novel’s fictional elements into the actual historical record.
The book suffers, however, from pacing problems as Mirolla struggles to figure out which scenes to linger on. The death of Mrs. Bedner and the sexualization of Giulio and Nicole’s relationship with Torp all happen far too fast. The last quarter of the novel drops into a dream-like state interspersed with sudden, inexplicable passages from Giulio’s journal.
Moreover, we’re never entirely clear what happened to Torp following his release from jail. Is he dead or alive? Was he a criminal or just a messed-up young person? Giulio and Nicole end up leaving Vancouver (Giulio scores a tenure-track job at a university in New Zealand) with more questions than answers about Torp, and readers may find themselves in the same position.
Having said that, Mirolla writes with great passion, and his novel will appeal to anyone possessed of a nostalgic interest in this tumultuous period in Canada’s history.