Award-winning novelist, journalist, and playwright Rick Salutin takes us into the world of his protagonist, Max economist, leftist, and reluctant but incorrigible womanizer.
Max’s amorous adventures begin at the age of eight when the young Casanova finds himself running from the scene of his first crime, a surreptitious kiss on the couch with the neighbour’s daughter. For the next few decades women become participants in Max’s awkward and often hilarious journey to self-discovery some willing, some reluctant, some unwitting. We follow Max from the 50s to the 90s, through shifting sexual codes and practices, from Toronto to London and Paris, and, most importantly, from one woman to another. He is doomed to repeat this history until he learns from it.
Resonant with authority, experience, and self-deprecating insight, The Womanizer explores the riddles of growing up and the discovery that we understand ourselves only through others and that our most intimate moments are clues to our true selves.
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About the Author
Rick Salutin is a novelist, playwright and social commentator. His work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Toronto Life, Saturday Night and This Magazine, and he won the National Newspaper Award as best columnist of 1993. He is the recipient of the 1991 Toronto Arts Award in writing and publishing.
Read an Excerpt
And we are put on earth a little space
That we may learn to bear the beams of love.
Part I: Trigger Had a Hard-on
Let’s consider the little Casanova at age eight, he thinks, as he steps from the last stair of the porch onto the pavement. Yes, that will do for a start. Amazing how sometimes all it takes is that moment when your foot hits the street for thought to flow, the muddle clears and the problem resolves. It’s a good enough reason to walk, as he always has. Same walk, same route, only the years have passed. Many years to be sure. Sometimes you think you’ve got it right at last, so why not try a different route, which he occasionally does; on the other hand, there’s always more to learn from where you’ve already been.
He guesstimates he’s walked this route ten thousand times and the returns might be diminishing, though he hasn’t done a cost-benefit analysis. Sometimes he varies it, but never for long. Does that mean he lacks imagination? No one ever accused people in his field of being creative. But human beings take the same walk because they’re repetitive and obsessive, it’s their nature and has its reasons. You travel the same block because you haven’t solved its puzzle yet. Walk it again once more and it may finally yield its secret. Then you can move on to another route, different problem. Once he thought the sole purpose of these walks was to meet somebody, and often he did. Now, he thinks it’s to solve the puzzle, whatever it is. So keep walking.
Of course now he’s walking mainly for cardiac purposes, and with care, nitro puffer in his pocket, just in case. After the operation he’ll get down to serous cardiac walking, maybe buy a treadmill, though everyone says they end up as storage space for files and knickknacks. A tall woman with long brown hair strides toward him on the other side. In the past he’d have crossed over, casually, to pass nearer, maybe say hi, see if there’s a response. Something reminds him of the girl in the rain. Her carriage. She walks haughtily, shoulders back, head up, hair flowing. The hair has a life of its own. I don’t need anyone, it all says, along with: I am making contact by the mere way I walk and look, and inviting others to contact me back. Then she is gone. Who was that woman? people could ask, the way they used to say, Who was that masked man? until someone solved it by saying, That was the Lone Ranger.
There are traffic calmers on the road beside him. They used to be called traffic bumps but apparently it was provocative, or just accurate, and the bumps made many drivers angrier and more aggressive even without the term, so now they call them calmers, to the same effect or worse. Traffic flow holds the secret to many mysteries, in his view. It’s a totally scientific matter of physics and math, yet it’s one hundred per cent about psychology and choice. It is, in other words, like economics. He turns onto Bloor Street, a main, ahem, artery, and not a side street, yet notoriously narrow and clogged. He remembers when there were streetcar tracks, restricting the flow even further. Two lanes expanded to four, and the traffic wound up going slower and being more crowded than before. It’s a metaphor for the standard notion of growth in economics: a great thing to have, except when it makes everything worse, which it generally does.
He passes Amanda, closing the dry cleaner’s. Since her teens she’s been entrancing the men of the city. She calls his name and waves. She knows every customer she’s ever had. She’s smart and funny and he’d sleep easier than he does if she was prime minister of the country and secretary-general of the UN too. He told her that, back when she was in her teens. “Dry cleaning is my life,” she replied, saying nothing much as if it was everything there is to say. Why is there such intimacy between sexy and smart? He’s still working on that.
The bypass will be routine of course, as everyone says, almost as routine as a filling these days. Of course a bypass probably isn’t quite so routine if you’re the one going to have it. They saw open your chest and wrench it apart and, well, who knows? Then there’s the valve job, just slightly less routine. Means they go right into your heart, the way they did when they snaked the little tube up for the angio, after which he got the bad news. Or good, as some say: catch it, fix it, done. Still, he’s anxious to get on with this little tale, the one he’s formulating as he walks. Lay it out and set it down. Just in case. Not because he’s pessimistic or angry, and definitely not because he’s bitter and feeling cheated. He doesn’t. He isn’t. He has met his wonderful child, at a time in his life when he had given up on such a thing happening, and he has known true love. When your life has turned out all right, it sprinkles a little healing dust back over the past. Except his boy has not known him. That’s the only sore spot. It will be a while before the son can know the dad back. We are the repositories of our children’s experience, till they can serve as their own. What would this child want to know from this parent, if he could ask? What should his parent pass on, if he must do it immediately? The two of them still haven’t had the conversations he’s been hearing in his head since before the kid arrived. The ones about fishing and the night sky. And above all, of course, the solemn futile duty every dad owes his son: to talk to him about sex.
Futile because it is the historic mission of each generation to surpass, antiquate, minimize, and trivialize all the heroic sexual advances and breakthroughs made by the generation before it. So any discussion is already superceded by events, by history, you could say. History always triumphs, so far. Yet unavoidable as well because, well, because you have nothing else to give. It’s the only way to justify your own lucky slot in the parade of generations, which you, through this child, had the fortune to join. You must offer your meagre experience and the pathetic tidbits of wisdom gleaned from it to those who are about to succeed you, roll their eyes as they may and probably must. That’s the solemn, futile duty of every dad to every son. Especially if the dad is not quite certain how long he’ll be around; and his son, coming up to big birthday number one, is still too small to understand words, much less the components of a sex life. There’s a need to gather it somehow so it will be available whenever he, in the future, has the will and leisure to dip into it. Or not, as he chooses. The obligation, at least, will have been discharged. So let’s consider the little Casanova. And let’s call him well, why call him anything?
Because this is not a study (economic, econometric, statistical, or historical) like the work he normally does. It is a story, an exemplary tale and a cautionary one. The “true” record is something else and is ample, as much as those ever are: documents, recollections, photos, debris. But the figure in this tale is not the typically messy human reality who doesn’t quite fit his or any context just right; he must be somebody tailored to the tale, to fill the need, an ideal type of the sort concocted by Max Weber, that sociologist of economies, or economist of societies, who sought to exemplify, not replicate. He will not belong to any actual reality but will illuminate many. And besides, embarking on a story of some uncertainty and pain, for the sake of a person you don’t really know yet, it won’t hurt to create a little distance. So let’s call him Max.