In 2012 Terri Favro’s novella The Proxy Bride (Quattro Books) won the Ken Klonsky Quattro Novella Award. Fellow Inanna author Lisa de Nikolits said of The Proxy Bride: “A beautiful snapshot of a time past and present: a vignette of small town Niagara, home to passionate Italians, their lives portrayed lovingly with sensual prose and operatic lyrical descriptions.”
Once Upon a Time in West Toronto (2017, Inanna Publications) is the sequel to The Proxy Bride, but it is not required reading in order to understand Once Upon a Time in West Toronto. I certainly didn’t and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
First, a brief synopsis from the book’s preface:
The adventures of Ida, a liberated proxy bride, her lover, Marcello, a ditch digger; Bum Bum, a virtuous thief; and assorted Villans, Hustlers, and Whores.
The story opens in West Toronto in 1974, the location: the Seahorse Motor Court and Housekeeping Cabins on Lakeshore Blvd. Here, Ida and Marcello are holed up, on the run from Marcello’s father (Marcello Senior) and his henchmen, for his son Marcello (Junior) has run off with his wife (and therefore Marcello’s stepmother). As you can see, it’s complicated. Ida has agreed to marry Marcello Senior so she can escape her life in Italy and get to the New World (she thinks Marcello Senior is a rich widower with a ranch and Marcello Junior is his little boy).
“Unless the old man grants her an annulment or dies, Marcello can never be her “husabanda”, a mildly incestuous situation that is scandalous even by the slackening moral standards of 1974. Inamorato is the correct word for what Marcello is to Ida, but makes him sound like a dashing Renaissance prince rather than a melancholic muscle-bound ditch digger who spends most of his time down manholes.”
The second storyline involves Bum Bum (whose real name is Pasquale) escaping his life in the Niagra region (there is a connection to Marcello and Ida as well) when, hitchhiking, he gets picked up by Claire, a young woman driving a stolen Corvair who is escaping life in the neighbourhood of Love Canal in Niagra Falls, New York.
“Like a hero from an Isaac Asimov novel, Bum Bum must get Claire to a safe haven on a star cluster far, far away – Alpha Centauri, if possible, Toronto, if not.”
They all eventually end up in Toronto (unbeknownst to one another) but soon their paths cross as circumstances begin to draw them together in order to survive and escape Senior, the law and their own past demons.
It is challenging to express just how skilfully Ms Favro has spun this story, keeping all the prime characters and places in perfect balance so that Once Upon a Time in West Toronto has a genuine holistic feel to it, complete in itself. There’s nothing that leaves you feeling that parts of the whole are left suspended in the air, forgotten about.
Part opera buffa and part opera seria, Once Upon a Time in West Toronto contains smiles and sadness, triumphs and tragedies as Ms Favro’s heroes (flawed, but very likeable) carve out a life in Toronto in the simpler times of the 1970’s. A five-star effort and a recommended read.
Once Upon a Time in West Toronto by Terri Favro