January 22, 2012
"Loving the mayor is a bit like that": Rosemary Aubert's Firebrand
Rosemary Aubert’s Firebrand is a Harlequin SuperRomance published in 1986, and that I discovered it via a footnote in Amy Lavender Harris’s Imagining Toronto is to give you an indication that Harris’ book is chock-full of fascinating stuff. As is Firebrand, actually, which I would bet is the only Harlequin ever whose romantic lead has a painting of William Lyon MacKenzie on his office wall. This is a Toronto book through and through, dedicated, “To T.O, I love you,” and it shows.
It’s the story of Jenn McDonald, unassuming librarian (naturally), but she’s an unassuming librarian at the Municipal Affairs Library at Toronto City Hall (which, under our current city government, has been made to no longer exist). Which gives her a good vantage point from which to observe the city’s mayor Mike Massey (whose not one of those Masseys, the novel tells us), who Jenn remembers from the days when he was a rebellious young alderman and the two of them spent a memorable night together locked up in a police station after a protest.
When they meet again while watching the ice-skaters at Nathan Phillips Square, their original spark is rekindled and Jenn and Mike are drawn to one another. She is baffled by his desire, a man so far out of her league, but it turns out that he’s attracted to her down-to-earth qualities and her spirit, and as they argue about developing Toronto’s portlands and the preservation of the Leslie Street Spit, he can see that she’s a woman who can more than hold her own.
But loving the mayor isn’t all posh cars and white roses. It’s hard to love a man who’s already married to his job, and who is used to commanding all those around him. The path to true love doesn’t quite run smooth, and its bumps include a fierce debate on city council about Toronto police officers being armed with machine guns (Mike Massey is firmly against; his stance is unpopular at a time when officers are being shot with Uzis), Jenn receiving death threats, a custody battle with Mike’s ex-wife, and Jenn’s unresolved feelings with her husband. All this against a fabulous Toronto backdrop: first dates in Chinatown, their homes on either side of the Don Valley (with the footpath between them), Jenn shopping at the Room at Simpsons, galas at the King Edward, a protest near OCAD against arts cuts (including those funding The Friendly Giant, we are subtly told), a stroll together through the Moore Park Ravine, a political rally at the Palais Royal. Michael Ondaatje might own the literary Bloor Street Viaduct, but he’s got nothing on Rosemary Aubert for the rest of town.
It’s really quite a good book. This surprised me, though there are some who will rush to tell me that we all write off Harlequins too quickly, but I’m still pretty sure they’re not my thing. Because this book is a Harlequin, there are passages like, “Whispering, caressing, clutching, they continued, until Mike’s large, warm, immensely masculine body covered Jenn’s completely. Until the soft, shifting eagerness of her beneath him brought him to the brink of ecstasy. He asked. She answered yes. Oh yes.”
And then later in the mayor’s office: “Before her, all six-foot-four of him glowing in the soft window light, stood Mike, fully and gloriously a man. Hungry for her with a hunger that was obvious in every part of his huge body.” Which makes “300 pounds of fun” seem kind of paltry, no?
So there’s that, but aside from huge bodies, Aubert paints the city of Toronto with a vibrant specificity, and anyone who cares about our city’s literature (and municipal politics!) should definitely check out this book. The very best part of Amy Lavender Harris’ Imagining Toronto is its challenge of every prejudice as to what Toronto Literature comprises– the canon is more surprising than you ever imagined. And how fortunate we are that Harris’ book turns up Firebrand, which is out of print, hardly known, and hasn’t a single copy held by the Toronto Public Library. I would urge you to pick up your used copy on Amazon for a penny like I did while there are still copies out there to be had.