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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Hubert Aquin 30 Years Later

Today marks 30 years since Hubert Aquin killed himself in Montreal on 15 March 1977. Gordon Sheppard, author of HA! A Self-Murder Mystery has been dead for just over a year now, too. In the end, it was Sheppard's own failing body that kept him from spreading the word of his dramatic version of Aquin's suicide. Perhaps the answer to this mystery was only made known to him on the other side.

Though a soft cover edition of HA! was posthumously published in 2006, I wonder if the book will ever resonate to the extent Sheppard envisaged. He was always hoping for a wider appreciative audience and sought a kind of approval a review in the New York Times or New York Review of Books could bring. Alas, they did not materialize. Despite some very positive reviews in Canada, he strove to find ways to get more people to read this mammoth book. I figure that getting the book in the public's hands was one mystery that he could not solve. It was a vexing marketing conundrum that was beyond his steadfast pursuit.

At the time of his death I had been corresponding with Sheppard since November 2003 when I first read this fabulous big red book, HA!. Earlier that month I went to a sparsely attended reading at the Library and Archives in Ottawa and it was Sheppard who sent me the first email that touched upon his neverending quest for publicity:

Dear John

It was a pleasure meeting you in Ottawa last week. And answering your questions.

I'm also gratified that you have gotten so much out of the book. In this regard, you might be interested to know that Bill Richardson, on his CBC-FM show on Friday, called the book 'magnificent".

Sales seem to be going well in Montreal. We're trying to get the book reviewed by the Citizen to get more exposure in Ottawa.

I have a clear sense that the book can become a best-seller if we can find the right approaches to the publicity and marketing. Ideally this will include local book clubs, where word of mouth can hold sway.

With best wishes,

Gordon (Sheppard)

Normally (in my experience anyway) it is the fan who seeks permission to contact the author for further discussion. This was not the case with our meeting that evening. I was surprised when he asked for my email. Thinking nothing of it at the time I did not know what I was in for. Recently, with Aquin's 30 year anniversary in my thoughts, I went through my email archives and counted 230 emails directly from Sheppard since this first meeting.

Just last week, a mutual acquaintance, Lubin Bisson contacted me via a comment he had written in my blog about Sheppard's passing. Curiously, someone else left a comment questioning Gordon's relationship with Ellen Stratton, Playboy's first Playmate of the Year for 1960. Lubin confirmed that Gordon's first wife was, indeed, Ellen Stratton. There's also a short bio of Stratton in wikipedia which references the short marriage between the two.

Lubin also provided an interesting link to a piece Sheppard wrote in 2005 telling about how he came to make the 70s film Eliza's Horoscope. It's been over a year since Gordon's death and reading this immediately brings Gordon's voice back to life - like he never went away. No one said "The End" yet. I am still waiting for the film to end.


Blogger Stephen Rowntree said...

Thoughtful and wonderful homage, John, good to read some people have an ear, and eyes, for great literature.


Saturday, March 17, 2007 5:44:00 AM  

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