Archive for the ‘Albatross’ Category

McMaster unveils gifts created by engineering grads

Monday, December 16th, 2019


T’is the season! The engineering faculty of my beloved alma mater, McMaster University, recently released a list of eclectic holiday gifts all created by Mac engineering graduates. They kindly included Albatross. I loved my years at McMaster and have been fortunate enough to maintain ties with my university in the more than 35 years since I graduated (yikes!). I’ve said it before. Had I not gone to McMaster, I’m not sure where I’d be today, or who I’d be.

Lorne Rubenstein Reviews Albatross

Wednesday, November 27th, 2019

The great golf writer, Lorne Rubenstein, recently reviewed Albatross for SCOREGolf. I’m grateful. Here’s his take on the novel.




Book Review: Albatross

By: Lorne Rubenstein

It’s sometimes said that when somebody is playing their best they have no swing thoughts — not a one. It’s see the shot, feel the shot, register the target, and swing. Golfers covet this revered, albeit rarely achieved, “zone.” Adam Coryell, the hero of Terry Fallis’s imaginative new novel Albatross, plays that sort of golf — always. It’s his natural state. It’s his gift. No wonder his teammates on his high school golf team refer to him as a “golf freak.”

Adam knew nothing about golf and hadn’t touched a club when Bobbie Davenport, his homeroom teacher during his senior year of high school, met him. She was a nine-time club champion at the Ladies GC of Toronto, and on her way to perhaps dominating the LPGA Tour. But a back injury thwarted her.

Terry Fallis bookBobbie was now the coach for the high school golf team. Adam was an aspiring writer, who, as she learned, needed literature to live. She was an avid reader and taught a course called Writer’s Craft. Adam took it. He soaked it up. He wanted to learn to write. Writing would always mean more to him than golf. Not even close.

Meanwhile, Bobbie was keenly interested in learning what sport people were best suited to play. She had read the work of Ingemar Gunnarsson, a Swedish biomedical engineer and kinesiologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia. He had written a paper called “Body Type Analysis for Predictive Innate Pinnacle Proficiency (PIPP) in Major Sports,” published in the Scandinavian Journal of Kinesiology and Sports Medicine. His inspired hypothesis was that “every human being, regardless of athletic inclination, has a body that is suited to perform competently in at least one sport, and often more.”

I was hooked. I’ve often wondered whether another, say, Tiger Woods, might be lurking out there. Maybe he’s playing the wrong sport, in that he’s not suited for that sport but could be ideally suited for golf. You never know. Is it a matter of luck that one finds the sport that is exactly for him or her? Is there a Tiger out there skating on some frozen pond in Saskatchewan when he should be playing golf? Is a potential Brooke Henderson practising hours a day on some tennis court, to little avail because she’s a natural golfer but doesn’t know it?

How to find out what to do? Dr. Gunnarsson developed a series of bodily measurements, such as the length of one’s fingers and the distance from one’s waist to the top of the head. This generated a calculation called a Gunnarsson number. It took him 15 years to come up with the algorithm that led to his conclusion. I’ll quote one of the relevant paragraphs in Fallis’s novel, as Davenport related the results to the young man who had no idea he should be playing golf.

“His algorithm involves a series of body measurements that, when evaluated as standalone benchmarks and more importantly as a series of ratios, can be mapped against the projected optimal numbers for about 27 different sports, all based on elite athletes whom Dr. Gunnarsson has studied using an advanced computer modeling method. His optimal numbers represent an extrapolation into uncharted territory.”

I’ll say. Adam Coryell’s Gunnarsson number is 99.2, the highest the scientist has ever seen. He’s never come across an athlete with a score higher than 89. With such a number, an athlete need only let his body “do what it naturally wants, and you will be rewarded by peak athletic performance in your particular sport.”

Given the gift, the athlete need not practise. Adam is already a perfect golfer, as long as he doesn’t interfere with his ability. That’s why he thinks about anything but golf while competing. “The only thing I can do is make my game worse,” he says.

This raises the provocative question of agency, a concept that comes up regularly in Fallis’s appealing novel and that is at the heart of the book. If a person has nothing to do with his gift, if a person doesn’t have to work to improve, is it truly theirs? Can he or she feel good about any accomplishments?

Fallis is a Torontonian who has won the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour twice. He wrote six novels before he took on the vagaries of golf in Albatross. The title works in two ways, as golfers who read the book will soon appreciate. An albatross in golf is that rare feat of making a two on a par 5, or (yes, it happens) a one on a par 4. That’s double the pleasure: a hole-in-one and an albatross.

Then there’s the textbook definition of “albatross,” as in thinking of a problem in one’s life as an albatross around one’s neck. It’s a burden, and you might feel guilty for carrying it. That’s Adam. His exquisite talent for golf takes him to the highest levels of the game. He wins the NCAA Championship while attending Stanford University on a golf scholarship; Stanford, naturally, where Tiger Woods went to college and won everything. He finishes second in the 2017 Masters as an amateur.

He’s still an amateur when he wins the 2018 Masters, with Bobbie caddying for him. He turns pro and wins his first tournament on the PGA Tour. He wins the Memorial. He becomes unimaginably wealthy and buys a magnificent condo at Yonge and Bloor in Toronto. Life is good. Or is it? Adam is the most anhedonic golfer you have ever met between covers, or probably anywhere. He takes no pleasure from his multiple victories and fast rise to fame.

“I’m just saying, I haven’t really won those tournaments,” Adam says to Bobbie, “my one-in-a-billion physical shell won them. I am not responsible. I have no agency, no control. I’m just along for the ride.”

Fallis, a recreational golfer since he was in grade eight, takes the reader on quite a ride. Adam’s future turns on some surprising plot twists and developments — including a love interest — that kept me thinking about control, agency, letting go, and identity. These are serious matters, but Fallis keeps things light and fluffy and fun. This is a meringue of a novel.

While reading, I was somehow reminded of the two comic pieces Stephen Leacock wrote about golf. He called one The Golfomaniac and the other A Lesson on the Links: The Application of Mathematics to Golf.

Is the latter an early Gunnarsson approach that will stir the golfomaniac in those of us devoted to the art and science and mystery and misery of the game? Leacock calculated that “there are 50 disturbances” that could ruin his character Amphibius Jones’ game, each showing up once every 10 days. Leacock wonders, “What chance is there that a day will come when not a single one of them occurs?”

Fabulous. I wrote a piece about Leacock’s golf stories for the long-gone United States Golf Association magazine, Golf Journal, in 1994. Leacock’s calculation was that the day when not a single disturbance would affect Jones’ game “comes to about once in 2,930,000 years.” So goes, ahem, the Leacock number.

And now we have the Gunnarsson number. A friend told me about Albatross during dinner a while ago, and I went right out and bought myself a copy. Put the book on your gift list this holiday season. Have some fun. That’s what golf is all about, isn’t it? It’s a gift to all of us, even if our Gunnarsson numbers would barely register. Oh well.

Literary Review of Canada Reviews Albatross

Tuesday, October 29th, 2019

I was pleased to see and then read this thoughtful review of Albatross in the Literary Review of Canada. Read on…

LRC Review 191029a

A nice piece in the London Free Press

Monday, October 28th, 2019

In anticipation of my visit to the London Words festival this coming weekend, veterans arts reporter Joe Belanger has written this very nice piece for the London Free Press.

Lonbdobn Free Press piece 191026

A thorn between two Atwood roses

Thursday, September 12th, 2019

Now that The TestamentsMargaret Atwood’s much-anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, has arrived, hot on the heels of Louise Penny’s latest blockbuster, I’m thrilled to be still in the bestseller mix. This is the top ten list of Canadian fiction bestsellers according to Bookmanager as of this day. It’s a veritable “who’s who” of CanLit with Margaret Atwood, Miriam Toews, Michael Ondaatje, Emma Donoghue, Esi Edugyan, Michael Crummy, Cherie Dimaline, and Louise Penny… and somehow I’m there, too. Surreal.


Bookmanager ranking 190912


Update on Albatross as a Bestseller

Friday, August 30th, 2019

Albatross continues to hang in there on most bestsellers’ lists. Any way you slice it, I’m one lucky novelist. There should be a shake-up next week with Louise Penny’s new book landing. I suspect she’ll be atop the charts very shortly. But it’s been very nice while it lasted! Anyway, here’s an Albatross bestseller update for the current week:

CBC Bestseller list 190829

Globe 190831

Toronto Star 190828

Winnipeg Bestsellers (McNR) 190828

Albatross now at #3 on Globe Bestseller List

Friday, August 23rd, 2019

Last week Albatross entered the Globe and Mail Bestsellers list at #10. One week later (and only two weeks since it was published) the novel has somehow risen to #3. This is very encouraging and I’m thankful for the work of my team at McClelland & Stewart and for the support of readers across the country who have so quickly snapped up Albatross. May it continue at least for a few more weeks!

Globe 190824

Number 3 on the Toronto Star Bestsellers List

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

Thank you all who have picked up Albatross already. You’re clearly moving the needle! The novel has opened at number three on the Toronto Star Bestseller list one week after launch. I couldn’t be happier or more grateful.

Toronto Star 190821

My interview on CBC-Radio’s q

Tuesday, August 20th, 2019

I had a great time this morning being interviewed on CBC Radio’s flagship arts and culture program, q, with guest host Ali Hassan. He did a wonderful job of making me feel relaxed. It was like we were just having a conversation over lunch except there was no lunch but there were headphones. My thanks to Emma, the talented producer at q, for helping make this happen.

Click here to listen to the interview.

q interview 2 190820

q interview 190820

Albatross is a CBC Books #1 Bestseller

Tuesday, August 20th, 2019

A tweet caught my eye as it flashed by in my Twitter stream. I took a closer look and was glad I did. Here’s the lovely tweet:

Tweet re #1 bestseller 190820a

What a thrill. Seems as if Albatross has taken flight (pun intended) and I couldn’t be happier. When I clicked through on the link in the tweet, it confirmed the unlikely but welcome news. Exactly one week after it was released, Albatross is the #1 bestseller in Canadian fiction, at least for the next seven days.

CBC Bestseller list 190820