Anderson, Gordon Stewart.” The Toronto You are Leaving”, Untroubled Heart, 2006.
A Manuscript Resurrected
My adventure with “The Toronto You are Leaving” is interesting not to mention that I am sitting here quite stunned after having just closed the covers of the book. Jeffrey Round, the author of “The P’Town Murders” which I reviewed not long ago sent me a note and we have become e-friends. In the course of our correspondence, he mentioned Gordon Stewart Anderson’s book and said that I would really enjoy it. He also said it was one of those masterpieces that seem to fall from view. The author had died 16 years ago and his sister had found the computer disks upon which it was stored. Anderson’s mother self published the book and it came into print. Jeffrey told me he would get Anderson’s mother to send me a copy and for several months. I heard nothing. Last week the book arrived with a note from Betty Anderson. She informed me that her son had been selected as one of the five top authors of Canada in 2006 by “The Globe and Mail” and after reading the book I can see why. I am now determined to get as many people to read this incredible book.
I have only been to Canada once and that was many years ago so I don’t knew much about the gay scene there. Or perhaps, it is more correct to say that I did not know much about it and then I read this book which is a look at gay life in Toronto—it is a love story and so much more.
The book is not an edited masterpiece, rather it is quite rough but it is a careful record of the 70’s and looks at the cultural landscape and human perception. “Toronto” is about Tim, an art student and David, who is working on his PhD in English literature. Their city is the college campus (the University of Toronto) but they soon discover the outside world. The reader discovers Toronto with them and Toronto becomes a character in the novel. When Tim first sees David, he immediately feels something. It was not until a second meeting did the two men speak to each other.
Tim invites David to lunch but David, aware of the homosexual advances does not stay. Tim manages to arrange another meeting between the two and David then invites Tim back to his place but David, nervous, reacts badly as he is just beginning to realize his feelings for other men and he is afraid of them. Slowly he begins to adjust to his suspicions about himself and to ease into the lifestyle that he knows should be his but fills him with apprehension and fear.
We watch as David goes through self-acceptance and we identify with him. Most of us have had his feelings and to may, being gay has been the forbidden fruit. We want it but as afraid of how it will affect the way we live. Coming out is a difficult time for all and in the 70’s and 80’s, it was that much more difficult—we were nowhere near the level of societal acceptance that we have reached now. This book shows us that we need love and friendship in our community and this is what we have learned from the AIDS epidemic. We also need a sense of dignity if we want to take our place in society.
Anderson also shows us that gay life is complicated and we must wear different hats for different occasions. The book is not just a novel but a guide to living a realistic and sane gay life and some of us need this so badly. But more than anything else, Anderson gives us characters that are real. He has written about a large group of people that I am not likely to forget. Anderson may no longer be with us but his characters are vibrantly alive. He depicts emotion in ways that stun and Toronto becomes a microcosm of gay life everywhere. Not only do we get a beautiful love story but a history of the way we live. Even though I had already left America during the period in which the novel takes place, friends wrote to me and told me what was happening to our community when the AIDS epidemic hit us. Toronto can merely be a metaphor for any city with a large gay population. We were decimated by AIDS but we had our pride and courage and this is what “The Toronto You Are Leaving” depicts so well. Humor and pathos intertwine and the beauty of the language and the sense of anger with which the book is written describe intimately a heart-breaking period in our history.
We can only weep that we no longer have Gordon Stewart Anderson. If only he, and so many others, had survived AIDS. To know that he will never write again and that this is all we have of his is heartbreaking.