The Toronto You Are Leaving by Gordon Stewart Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The best gay-themed book set in Toronto, without question.
I went looking to read versions of stories similar to my own and tried to find books set in gay Toronto at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives. I found five, only five, and this was the most accomplished.
It's rare to see a first novel so fully fleshed out and not focused solely on the self. This book is a big, epic book, spanning decades and covering the gay history of Toronto. I feel like some people may be turned off by the AIDS angle, suffering from AIDS fatigue. This is not an AIDS book, AIDS isn't mentioned until the last 10 percent of the book. Also I personally put it off for a while until I had time for such a sweeping read, and I shouldn't have, the story is very personal and primarily focuses on two people.
The book starts with a romance and tentative steps toward the gay scene when in college, something experienced by many gays growing up in small towns around the world, and like myself:
"Only he'd always known there was Toronto, there was a bus, and one day he had got on it."
I really appreciated the discussions on the Canadian-ness of the characters, the stiff British upper-lip combined with the laissez-faire influence from the south creating something unique in a story rarely told.
The story of the publication of the book is almost as good as the book itself and is detailed in the introduction.
I took a star off for the story, I felt it could have been more sweeping and included more Toronto events happening during the story as a plot point rather than a brief aside.
Also I feel the book took a turn in the end with AIDS coming on suddenly, but I imagine that in itself was realistic, and the final chapter of the book is perfection.
The strength of this novel is the characterizations, the vivid portrait of Toronto brought to life, and the fact that it was published at all.
I would and will be recommending it to every gay Torontoian I know, it is our story captured as never before or since.
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