The Garneau Block by Todd BabiakThe Garneau Block by Todd Babiak

The Garneau Block

byTodd Babiak

Paperback | July 17, 2007

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A local phenomenon goes national! This sparkling novel has the warmth and wide appeal of Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe and the wit of Will Ferguson.

What Alexander McCall Smith did with 44 Scotland Street, Todd Babiak does with The Garneau Block. This addictive and charming, laugh-out-loud funny novel enchanted readers when it was serialized in the Edmonton Journal in the fall of 2005 — and now, The Garneau Block makes its national debut.

The Garneau Block follows the knowable citizens of the adored and hated city of Edmonton, capturing what we connect to in local stories and what is universal about modern life. Here, in what can only be described as a storytelling tour-de-force, we meet the warm, endearing, and delightfully flawed residents of a fictional cul-de-sac in the city’s Garneau neighbourhood just after the scandalous death of a neighbour and the sudden news that their land is about to be repossessed by the university.

When mysterious signs begin to appear duct-taped to trees saying only LET’S FIX IT, the block — including a sacked university professor, a once-ambitious, knocked-up haiku expert living in her parents’ basement, an aging actor whose dreams are slipping away, and a quiet but polite stranger — is galvanized to band together in a wild attempt to save their homes. And when regular people put their dreams in motion, anything can happen — namely, political machinations, personal revelations, a public uproar, and unforeseen love.

From a young author whose name will soon be on everyone’s lips come the most lovable Canadian characters since Dave and Morley, and a page-turning-good story. Readers nationwide won’t be able to get enough of The Garneau Block.

For the next while, David talked about the merits of joining the PC party. Why fight it, really? No political organization is perfect, of course, but by giving your support to the Liberals or the New Democrats, what are you doing? Further dooming the City of Edmonton. Further empowering Calgary and the rural caucus.

“Nonsense, David,” said Abby. “That’s the sort of talk that leads to tyranny, and we’ve had plenty enough of it in this province.”

“Tyranny she says! Tyranny!” David took a few steps in Tammy’s direction, so they formed a political triangle. “No wonder the left is so flabby.”

–From The Garneau Block

From the Hardcover edition.
Todd Babiak is the culture columnist for the Edmonton Journal and author of the #1 bestseller The Garneau Block, which was longlisted for The Scotiabank Giller Prize. His first novel, Choke Hold (Turnstone, 2000), won the Writers Guild of Alberta Henry Kreisel Award for Best First Book and was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust ...
Title:The Garneau BlockFormat:PaperbackDimensions:424 pages, 8.34 × 5.43 × 0.82 inPublished:July 17, 2007Publisher:McClelland & StewartLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0771009909

ISBN - 13:9780771009907

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love This Book It's no wonder why I love this comulsive read. It reminds me of my favorite author Stuart McLean and the Vinyl Cafe series. I also love that it's about a Canadian city. Every page has something that wlll make you laugh. #plumreviews
Date published: 2017-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Book About Local Community I think my favourite thing about this story is that it is based in Edmonton, where I live. it was fun to picture each character as the walked the same streets that I walk every day. This story has intriguing characters, twists and turns in the plot, and will tug at your every emotion.
Date published: 2016-12-20

Read from the Book

1. The Coldest Morning in Recent MemoryMadison Weiss woke to the smell of scorched dust and nearly wept. Though she had lived in Edmonton her whole life, and knew well that with September came the first blast of the furnace, Madison felt the city — at least the five houses on her block — deserved a year off. Summer had ended poorly, by anyone’s estimation, and lying in her garage-sale bed, in the suite her father had built in the basement of 12 Garneau, Madison could see no romance in autumn.The previous night, reading a new collection of nineteenth-century haikus, Madison had forgotten to close her curtain. Now the heatless sun splashed on the upper half of her bed, informing the engines of worry in her brain that a new day had begun. She would have preferred to construct a fort of darkness with her pillows, but she had to be at work in a few hours and the dizziness had arrived.In the tiny half-bath, as she finished throwing up, Madison remembered:First autumn morningThe mirror I stare intoShows my father’s face.And she threw up some more.The secret to a comfortable pregnancy and an agreeable post-partum experience is regular exercise. Madison had learned this from Dr. Stevens, a former classmate at Old Scona. Of course, the fact that one of her teenage peers was a doctor, with an Audi and a husband and her own two-storey clinker-brick house overlooking the river valley, was reason enough to search the clinics of Edmonton for an aged gentleman with a British accent, loose jowls, and cold hands. But Madison trusted her doctor, Dr. Stevens, and by way of consolation she did have fat ankles and dry hair.Madison put on her tights and shiny yellow running jacket. Now that the explosion of hormones in her body had begun its slow work on the size of her behind, Madison appreciated the utility of the rear flap that extended nearly to her knees. She ate a banana in the dimly lit kitchenette and watched a spider stitch its web outside the small window with a view of 10 Garneau’s mustard-coloured vinyl siding. Mid-banana, she wondered about her baby’s father, where he might be at this moment. Trois-Rivières? Prison?At the door, Madison paused. The furnace had warned her that it would be the coldest morning in recent memory, so she took a moment to prepare herself. Madison closed her eyes and pretended it was February. In February a morning like this would be a miracle.She stepped out into the September-February morning, breathed in the crisp air and hurried back inside. Television beckoned. Surely there was something on besides bland cartoons and that program where they talk about Jesus and ask for your credit card information.Soon, Madison would be thirty. She knew, from literature and television shows, that this was no way for a thirty-year-old single mother to behave. So she burst out the door again and down the cobblestone path to the sidewalk. Madison did not linger next to 10 Garneau, with its grey flowerbeds and small jungles of dandelion and chickweed. Potato-chip bags and Styrofoam coffee cups had blown into the yard, and were now trapped under the apple and plum trees Benjamin Perlitz had planted. Benjamin Perlitz, once the most patient and committed gardener in the neighbourhood. A two-week-old strip of yellow police line, coated with dust, hung in the shrubbery. Madison glanced up at the second-floor window, into the darkness and silence of the room where he died, and turned away.Leaves had already begun to change. Soon the North Saskatchewan River valley would be brilliant orange and yellow, and her morning jog would smell of decomposition and moist soil. The air was clean and the long shadows cast by neighbourhood trees were like old friends.Madison turned to press against the mountain ash tree in front of her parents’ house for a calf stretch, and discovered a sheet of fresh white paper duct-taped to the bark. Since the night Benjamin Perlitz was shot and his wife and daughter disappeared into the secret grief of the city, Madison and her neighbours had become less likely to be surprised. But this was something. In all her years living under the regulatory shadow of the university, where it was strictly forbidden to affix advertisements, notices, and flyers on historically significant trees and lampposts, she had never seen such mutiny. Laser-printed in capital letters, in a classic font: LET’S FIX IT. Underneath, a date and time and the address for a downtown office tower. Madison knew instantly what Let’s Fix It referred to, and understood she was implicated in the “us” of the apostrophe s. Across the street, the philosophy professor, Raymond Terletsky, ripped a sheet off the tree in front of his house, 11 Garneau.“What is this?”The professor crossed the street, waving the sheet like a flag. He was dressed unfortunately, in a turquoise sweater that didn’t quite cover the pink of his stomach. He was a tall man, with a slouch. His snug black pants, like all of his pants, displayed too much sock. Madison averted her eyes from Raymond Terletsky’s ensemble and saw that identical sheets of paper were duct-taped to every tree and lamppost on the Garneau Block.“What is this?” said Raymond. “Is this new? Let’s Fix It?”“They weren’t up last night when I came home from work.” Madison turned to study the sheets in silence with the professor.He stood a little too close for her taste. The professor’s woody-fruity cologne was so powerful it threatened to give her a nosebleed. Raymond Terletsky smiled. “Someone is going to receive one hell of a fine for this.” He turned and raised his voice, though no one seemed to be about. “One hell of a fine.” Birdsong erupted, during which the professor waited for a response. Then he waved the sheet of white paper around with the back of his hand. “What does it mean, do you think?”Pressing once more against the mountain ash, Madison released her left hand from the bark to point at the second-floor window of 10 Garneau.“Well, obviously,” said Raymond. “But what does it mean?”From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

1. Did you find The Garneau Block compulsive reading? If so, which jams or messes made it most addictive? Some readers have claimed that this book has at least two guffaws per chapter: did you find it as funny as that? Compare the veins of humour running through the book. Which is its richest vein?2. Dickens, Maupin, McCall Smith and Babiak give focus to entire cities — London, San Francisco, Edinburgh, Edmonton — by concentrating on cross-sections of their populations. Are the characters you meet in The Garneau Block the people you expected to meet when you opened a novel set in Edmonton, a city that is best known to outsiders for its hockey team and shopping malls? Malls and hockey players do appear in this story but what does this author do to subvert the way we usually think about such places and such people?3. Todd Babiak has said “Canada is fading, we’re being hijacked by marketing.” He believes that the best way of keeping ourselves from being “branded” by global corporations (and defined by the kind of coffee we drink in public, for instance, an issue of importance to some of his characters) is to seek inspiration in the areas of life that defy stereotyping. In what ways does he avoid cliché when he deals with such common figures in prairie writing as the lonesome cowboy and the adulterous housewife?4. Alexander McCall Smith has said of The Garneau Block, “Mr. Babiak is blazing a trail — every city should have a story like this.” In what ways are the stories of The Garneau Block like the stories in your own city? In what ways are they decidedly different? Are any of the characters in The Garneau Block as familiar to you as your own neighbours? Is there anything that defines each of them as Edmontonian and/or Albertan and/or Canadian?5. Madison Weiss is nearly 30, an underemployed English major still living in her parents’ basement, when she finds herself adapting to a surprise pregnancy from casual sex with an anonymous French Canadian hiker in Jasper National Park. Although she gets down on herself for lack of obvious success in most areas of life, she is clearly not an unlovable loser. What is it about her that makes a reader sympathize with her and wish her and her baby well? What are her strengths as a friend? As a romantic companion? As a daughter? As a mother-to-be?6. David and Abby Weiss, Madison’s parents, are retired schoolteachers whose political views on most issues are diametrically opposed. He’s a right wing curmudgeon. She’s a left wing environmentalist. What makes them well-suited to one another despite their differing views? Does David’s relationship with Garith, his Chinese Crested dog, make him look foolish or more human? Given his political views, is David’s response to his daughter’s pregnancy believable? What accounts most for the changes in his political views throughout the book? Self-interest? Altruism?7. As several interviews with the author make plain, Todd Babiak is a man of many forceful opinions. However, due to the short chapters and quick pace of a serialized novel, there’s little room for him to make his own views known apart from the words and actions of his characters. The actor Jonas Pond and the former philosophy professor Raymond Terletsky have much to say on many topics. Is it accurate to say that Jonas and Raymond are polar opposites at the beginning of the novel — Jonas being life-affirming, Raymond being death-obsessed? Are they at the same distance from one another by the end of the book?8. More bad things happen to Raymond than to anyone else in the novel. Why? What are his flaws? Does he deserve to lose his teaching position for the acts he commits? Or is he punished too harshly? Despite the fact he doesn’t draw wise or sensible conclusions from many of them, do any of his ideas still make sense? What about his idea of mythic power? What about his plans for 10 Garneau as a center of localized cultural mythology? Does his wife, Shirley Wong, treat him too harshly or too leniently for his misdeeds? What does her love for hockey and hockey players tell us about her?9. Everyone in the neighbourhood is fascinated with Rajinder, the lone East Indian living in their midst. In what ways does Todd Babiak turn the stereotype of the Asian immigrant inside out? What is it in his relationship with Madison that ultimately makes Rajinder feel “unconditionally happy”?10. It’s sometimes said that the decline of serialized fiction in print media after World War II was due to television co-opting the strongest features of the form and applying them to sitcoms, dramas, crime series and soap operas. Does anything in The Garneau Block remind you of a particular television series? Which one? In what ways is it similar? In what ways is it distinctly different?11. Rajinder is involved with the arts as a patron and Jonas as an actor. Discuss what we learn about the current state of the performing arts in Alberta and what these characters teach us about the role the arts play in community life.12. Dickens, Maupin, McCall Smith and Babiak all weave the incidents in the lives of various characters around unifying storylines. What are the principal elements of the central story in The Garneau Block? Which is a better description of this novel: “the scandalous death of a neighbour and its aftereffects on the inhabitants of a small Edmonton neighbourhood” or “the reactions of a group of neighbours to the threat of expropriation of their homes and redevelopment of their neighbourhood by the University of Alberta”? How successful is Todd Babiak at combining both these elements in one book? Does your enjoyment of the book really depend on either of these things or is it really rooted in something else? What would that be?13. Writing in the Montreal Gazette, Pat Donnelly (a born and bred westerner) claims that The Garneau Block captures “the very essence of Edmonton” — “funny. . . sophisticated and hokey at the same time.” Is this an accurate description of Edmonton? Canada? The Garneau Block?14. “Central Edmonton is a bizarre place politically,” Todd Babiak has said. “Provincial Tories call it Redmonton. You have this Liberal and NDP bunker surrounded by a province of Conservatives.” As David Weiss discovers, it’s a tortuous political landscape to navigate successfully. Is the author even-handed in the jokes he makes at the expense of politicians of each persuasion? Can Babiak’s own political position be determined? Is he a partisan of any particular group or is he best described as a prairie populist — that is, an advocate of the rights and interests of ordinary people? Which character in the book do you think is closest to the author? Which character is most unlike him?15. Why is this novel called The Garneau Block? Does “block” contain a play on words? In what ways are each of the characters blocked or thwarted in their ambitions and desires? In what ways do they collectively block or thwart the university’s redevelopment plans?16. “If I do something that is distinctly Canadian (as a writer),” Todd Babiak has said, “it’s . . . to reconcile, politely mostly, the diverse histories and ideologies that tear up other countries.” Discuss the ways in which The Garneau Block succeeds in this quest for reconciliation. Are there any outstanding issues left unresolved between the various couples at the end of the book?17. What do the author’s experiences as a newspaperman contribute to the way he portrays Edmonton? In what ways does the city itself become a major character in the novel? Do the minor characters we encounter make Edmonton less or more likeable?18. Is it fair to say that Babiak’s male characters are more complex than his women? Are Jonas’s internal conflicts as a gay man closely and realistically observed? Or are they merely caricatured?19. At the end of the novel, after Rajinder confesses to Madison that he is happy for the first time since his parents died and Madison admits that she too is happy, he asks her, “Well. What else is there?” Madison answers that question in silence: “Money, air quality, Down syndrome, drinking and driving, nuclear proliferation, global poverty, new country music, climate change, semi-automatic weapons, fundamentalism, declining oil reserves, cancer, crime, crack cocaine, reality television, being forced out of your house, veterinary medicine.” What would you include that she leaves out?

Editorial Reviews

"Babiak’s highest achievement, though, lies in introducing us to the motley charms of the people and the city, whether they be bohemians who shop at Value Village or grandees who dine on bison with blueberry sauce at the Hardware Grill. If there really are a million stories in Champion City, let this one be the first."— Quill & Quire “The Garneau Block is screamingly funny. There is at least one laugh on every single page. This novel is fast-paced, savvy, bursting with vivid characters. A celebration of Edmonton! Satire that sucker punches everything sacred. Babiak comes out swinging.” — Lisa Moore, author of Alligator“As only the best writers can, Todd Babiak has taken a small patch of turf and, through sparkling satire and a passionate eye, made it a world. A neighborhood in Edmonton is about to get a lot of honorary citizens.” — Ian McGillis, author of A Tourist’s Guide to Glengarry“Babiak’s book will make you snicker and guffaw in public places. The Garneau Block is about an oddball cast of characters in a make-believe cul-de-sac in Edmonton, where life is one nonstop block party rife with political intrigue, neighbourly shenanigans, death, and romance.” — Canadian Living “...cleanly written, inventive, fast-moving, stuffed with zingers about everything from Satanists to cellphone ringtones, extremely affectionate toward its nutty cast of players, and laugh-out-loud funny. . . . Babiak’s highest achievement, though, lies in introducing us to the motley charms of the people and the city, whether they be bohemians who shop at Value Village or grandees who dine on bison with blueberry sauce at the Hardware Grill. If there really are a million stories in Champion City, let this one be the first.” — Quill & Quire “Mr. Babiak is blazing a trail — every city should have a story like this.” — Alexander McCall SmithFrom the Hardcover edition.