Some Great Thing

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Overview

Jerry McGuinty is a simple, self-made builder who claims he can plaster a wall that will change your life. Simon Struthers is a disaffected businessman who proves the old adage about money and happiness. Together they face the new Ottawa of the seventies: brash, bright, and ready for the taking.

With their different careers and successes, these two strangers seek to carve out their own happiness-Jerry with his new wife, Simon with his endless affairs and intrigues. But love can ...

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Overview

Jerry McGuinty is a simple, self-made builder who claims he can plaster a wall that will change your life. Simon Struthers is a disaffected businessman who proves the old adage about money and happiness. Together they face the new Ottawa of the seventies: brash, bright, and ready for the taking.

With their different careers and successes, these two strangers seek to carve out their own happiness-Jerry with his new wife, Simon with his endless affairs and intrigues. But love can be suffocated by the drive to succeed, and individuals crushed by greed and progress. Only when both men realize what they have to lose will their lives finally intersect, and the story spiral to its astonishing conclusion.

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Editorial Reviews

Noah Richler
...Some Great Thing is one of those infrequent "literary" novels that are likely to do extremely well because unlikely readers —i.e. men— will buy them and they will hand them on and let others know about them.... Appearing from nowhere, bursting with energy, here is a character-drive novel to reinvigorate Canadian fiction just as it was appearing tired... Some Great Thing is hugely entertaining, and God knows, Canadian readers don't get to say that very often.
The Walrus
Lev Raphael
… McAdam displays a superb ear for dialogue, especially when his characters are ranting or lying about what they want. In the end, Some Great Thing is a novel about the fruitless longing to create something that will withstand the savage fist of time. Despite the roar of earth movers, the clack of bricks being laid in course after course and the scrape of plastering, the spirit of Shelley's "Ozymandias" hangs over it all.
The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Urban planning and construction in Ottawa, Canada, might seem like dull subjects on which to build a novel, but in this compelling, bawdy debut, McAdam fashions them into powerful metaphors for the ambitions and personalities of two opposing characters, Jerry McGuinty and Simon Struthers. An introverted construction worker whose most reliable expression is "fuckin eh," McGuinty dreams of building better houses than the shoddy tract homes he's hired to plaster; eventually, he becomes one of the most powerful developers of suburban Ottawa. Struthers, on the other hand, is the master of the charming, vapid bureaucratic memo; the government's director of design and land use, he has a reputation for a smooth tongue in the office and among the ladies. Distracted by one love affair after another, Struthers feels age erode his promise until he becomes desperate to accomplish some great public works project on the same piece of land where McGuinty is determined to build his most magnificent housing community yet. Fans of Martin Dressler will appreciate McAdam's attention to the mechanics of real estate development, but his forceful, cartwheeling prose style is more akin to that of Dermot Healy or Lawrence Sterne. His first-person narrators wink and hint at the reader, and he sometimes indulges in stream of consciousness or other formal play. Some of these sections have more flash than substance the book's least successful bit is its first 20 pages. But McAdam redeems himself by fusing his housing narrative with a thoughtful exploration of the dynamics of home, where the relationships between fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, can often be more loving than those between husband and wife. Technical prowess and a surprising empathy mark McAdam as a writer to watch. Agent, Bill Clegg. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Harcourt debut fiction: two men on a collision course in hopped-up 1970s Ottawa. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The careers of a homebuilder and a bureaucrat converge on the booming fringe of Ottawa. McAdam's debut flexes considerable muscle once it settles down from a jittery beginning in the minds of Jerry McGuinty, an understandably inarticulate, up-from-nothing builder and his cirrhotic, delusional, estranged wife Kathleen. Carefully constructing McGuinty's progress up the ranks from gofer to drywall drudge to plaster artist to developer, McAdam tackles concurrently the rise of Simon Struthers, a thoroughly unpleasant bureaucrat, a bachelor with a bad habit of boffing the wives of his co-workers and, when appropriate, his co-workers. Struthers, son of an MP, independently wealthy, and totally amoral, drifts into semipotency in a department with controls over city development, a course that will place his one real project, a greenbelt, square in the path of Jerry McGuinty's subdivisions. McGuinty's ambitions and work ethic absorb him totally and leave him oblivious both to Irish-born Kathleen's hard-to-miss alcoholism and to the wretched life of their only son. He also manages to miss the fact that Kathleen pretty much loathes him and would gladly chuck husband, son, and the succession of bigger homes to return to her loose life running a lunch wagon from one construction site to the next. What works here is the portrait of Jerry and the insight into the rough world and odd priorities of the people who shape the houses most of us live in and are occasionally mystified by. Less believable is the utter corruption of the urban mandarin who, when he is not meddling with progress, spends an astonishing amount of time peering into the windows of his ladyloves, one of whom is much, much too young. Thedisintegration of the McGuintys' wretched family is made palatable by a clever denouement that knits up the ambitions of the two men. The construction business is on solid ground, the bureau is a little shaky. Agent: Bill Clegg/Burnes & Clegg
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR SOME GREAT THING
"A powerful, poetic, bawdily funny, and tenderly sad novel about class, about love, about drink, about poetics, about land, and about money-a few of the salient things that life and history are made of." -O, THE OPRAH MAGAZINE

"This brash, ribald first novel bursts with energy and spirit . . . Some Great Thing is a boisterous, uncompromising debut."-ESQUIRE

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780151010288
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/5/2004
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.14 (h) x 1.38 (d)

Meet the Author

COLIN McADAM is a Canadian who grew up in Hong Kong, Denmark, England, and Canada. Educated at McGill University and Cambridge, he now divides his time between Sydney and Montreal. Some Great Thing is his first book.

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Read an Excerpt

Kathleen on Wednesday
"JERRY MCGUINTY WAS my husband for fifteen years."
"Oh, yeah?"
"Twenty."
"But Jerry McGuinty's rich."
"I'm rich. From a phone call, I'll be."
"But you weren't really married to Jerry McGuinty."
"Watch where you're cuttin."
"How come you're not rich?"
"I am rich. Where's Lisa anyway? It takes a phone call, like I'm, like I'm one of them people, you know, calling. Cut my hair. Where's Lisa?!"
"I told ya. She's sick."
"What do ya mean, sick?"
"The clap."
"Ohhh. Lisa?"
"Yep."
"Who are you?"
"Joanie. I told you. See, it's here. Look in the mirror there. Joanie."
"Joanie."
"So your last name's McGuinty?"
"It is."
"How come it's Herlihy?"
"It's McGuinty."
"Says in the book, Herlihy. Mrs. Herlihy, ten o'clock, cut and set."
"Don't you set my hair. I won't pay if you set me."
"All right, Mrs. Herlihy."
"Herlihy, eh? Haven't heard that in a while."
"But ya gave that as your name."
"Herlihy's a pretty name, too."
"Herlihy is a pretty name."
"A Herlihy doesn't get the clap. Not a Kathleen Herlihy."
"No, ma'am, not a Joanie neither."
"McGuinty's a name."
"McGuinty's a name all right."
"My name for fifteen years or so. Smoke?"
"No thank you."
"Give ya some cheekbones."
"No thank you, ma'am. I got cheekbones."
"Where?"
"I got cheekbones as much as you was married to Jerry McGuinty."
"Where's Lisa fer shit's sakes? You tell me where Lisa is."
"I told you. Lisa's dead."
"What?"
"She died last week."
"Lisa?"
"Yep. Just after she married Jerry McGuinty."
"What?"
"Lisa's sick."
"You tell her to get better."
"You tell me what it was like being married to Jerry McGuinty."
"You cut my hair."
"I'm cuttin your hair."
"Arse. Jerry McGuinty was the biggest...You mind your own biggest."
"Business."
"What?"
"All I know is, I wouldn't be sittin in that chair if I was married to Jerry McGuinty. I wouldn't be gettin my hair cut by me, that's what I know, if I was married to Jerry friggin McGuinty."
"I could afford! I could pay for more than this. Who are you?"
"I'm Joanie."
"You're not Joanie. I was married to Joanie."
"Joanie McGuinty?"
"Jerry. Jerry McGuinty was my husband for twenty years."

AND I GOTTA buy cheese.
I gotta buy cheese.
"Cheese?"
"Aisle three."
"Three?"
"Three."
I can count. I can count. Comb your freakin hair, you ugly freakin freak, is all I want, is all I want is cheese. Three cheese.
"Where's aisle three?"
"What?"
"Aisle three fer shit's sakes." What do ya want with cheese? "What do ya want with cheese?"
"What?"
"I'm so fuckin thirsty."
"Do you need help?"
"I want some fuckin cheese."
"Aisle three, ma'am. That way, ma'am."
"What?"
"That way, ma'am."
He was sweet, that boy. That way, ma'am, that way. Cheese? Over there, over there by that way, ma'am, ya grubby little freak. "Which way?"
"Pardon?"
"Where'd he go?"
"Who, ma'am?"
"The grocery boy. He'll bring me a stick of cheese." That's it, that's right. Run away.

"DRINK?"
"Ya can't drink here, ma'am. This is a hairdresser's."
"I'll just have a drink."
"Ya can't, Mrs. Herlihy. This is a salon. Put that away now."
"I'll just put it down here."
"Put the flask back in your pocket, ma'am. I'm not kidding ma'am."
"I'll just put it down here."
"Ma'am."
"I saw your cheekbones."
"You see anyone else drinking?"
"There's no one in here."
"Right."
"There's no one in here, and you're trying to trick me."
"I'm not tricking you, Jerry."
"Jerry?"
"Joanie."
"It's Kathleen."
"Your name's Kathleen. Put the flask away, Kathleen."
"No one else is drinkin cause you're trickin everyone."
"Just put the flask away. There. In your pocket. You want me to finish your hair, don't ya?"
"Eh?"
"Mrs. Herlihy, ten o'clock, cut and set."
"I won't have a set today thanks."
"So you say."
"So says the Lord."
"Put the flask away now, Kathleen."
"Smoke?"
"No."
"I'll just have a smoke to help your cheekbones along."
"Thank you, ma'am."
"You confuse the shit out of me, Lisa."
"Do I? I'm Joanie. Would you like a drink, ma'am?"
"You're feckin right I would."
"Cause this is a saloon."
"Right."
"Put that away, ma'am. Put your head back there. Have a rest. Have a rest while I set your hair."

"GET YOUR FECKIN hands off me, is all I'm sayin."
"And all I'm saying is you should do your shopping elsewhere."
"Security!"
"I am security, ma'am."
"Security!"
"Come on outside, ma'am. Finish your shopping outside."
"Get your hands off me, and I won't kill you."
"You won't kill me?"
"Get your hands off me."
"Please keep your voice down."
"I want some flippin cheese!"
"You'll get some outside."
"Why?!"
"What?"
"Where the fuck is aisle three?"

"MRS. HERLIHY? Mrs. Herlihy? Wake up, Mrs. Herlihy. Wake up now, Kathleen. Wake up, ya friggin drunk. Mrs. Herlihy?"
"Yes?"
"You fell asleep."
"I fell asleep."
"I've done your hair, Mrs. Herlihy."
"Where?"
"Just on top of your head, ma'am."
"That's very kind."
"Are you all right?"

Kathleen on Thursday
"IT'S HERLIHY."
"Good morning, Mrs. Herlihy. Could you hold for one moment?"
"What?"
"Hold please."
Hold hold hold hold old hold old old.
"Mrs. Herlihy?"
"Eh?"
"What can we do for you today? The usual?"
"Quick."
"GOOD MORNING, Mrs. Herlihy."
"Robert, is it? Come in come in."
"Just on the counter, ma'am?"
"Eh?"
"I'll just put it on the counter. I have bad news, Mrs. Herlihy."
"Give us a drink."
"It's about the drink, ma'am."
"What is it?" Itchy, itchy bastard.
"Our supplier had no Dewar's. It's Bell's today, I'm afraid."
"Right."
"I thought you hated Bell's."
"Not just now. Hurry."
"I was worried."
"No ya weren't."
"Pardon?"
"I suppose you want some."
"Thank you, Mrs. Herlihy. Just a quick one. I've got four more deliveries this morning."
"Dewar's or Bell's?"
"You don't have Dewar's today, ma'am. I'll have Bell's."
"You'll have Bell's. I'll have Bell's. I'll have more Bell's than you cause you're driving."
"That's only fair."
"Where'd ya put it?"
"Just on the counter, ma'am."
"I'll just...I can pour the feckin thing...Here we go."
"Thank you very much."
"Give that back for a second, Robert, is it."
"Sure."
"I'll just have a little sip of yours."
"I wish you wouldn't do that, ma'am."
"More tomorrow. I'll give yiz."
"Can't I just have a bit?"
Fucker. "Here. One finger. One and a half fingers."
"Thanks."
"Pass that back for a minute. I'll just drink half a finger. There. You're driving."
"Thanks."
"Sit, Robert, is it."
"Thank you very much. Thank you. I like this couch."
"Fortune."
"Yeah?"
"Flippin right. I remember."
"I'll bet. How are you today, anyways, Mrs. Herlihy?"
"I want you to leave, Robert."
"Sure. I'll just knock that back."

JUST KNOCK it back goodbye son. Off then, ya freakin sponge? I'll just slip over here and ring the Bell's and call ya back for more. No? Tomorrow then. Come on back tomorrow.

"GOODBYE."

GOOD MORNING and goodbye to you Robert, ugly face, freakin mole, strawberry pus on chin.
Smell of old teeth. So old in my mouth, and look at yourself. Look at above the couch, dirty freakin mirror, lookin at yourself. Get yourself up for another, and for anyone else? Blinds down behind the eyes. Older than you look. Nothing like you look. Get yourself another. Goddamn couch cost a fortune, might as well enjoy life.
Feet!
Get a man to lay a carpet just as soon as I finish this here, this drink here cost a fortune. Three fingers at noon, get me through the lunchtime quiet. Half a glass, fat fingers today thank God. There's a toast to all my friends, I wanna thank you all for comin. Get a man to lay me down, three fingers behind the truck.
Feet! God damn the knees. Cover your knees ya freakin hag and lie down there on the couch. There ya go. There ya go. Peace and freakin quiet. I'll just have a quick cigarette, if that's all right with you, Robert.
Robert?

"IT'S HERLIHY."
"Hello, Mrs. Herlihy. What can we do for you?"
"Don't put me on hold."
"No need, ma'am."
"No need?"
"No, ma'am."
"I didn't...I need my cigarettes. Robert didn't deliver my goddamn cigarettes."

Copyright © Colin McAdam 2004

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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