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Home > McGill News > 2000 > Summer 2000 > Reviews

Wardlife: The Apprenticeship of a Young Writer as Hospital Clerk, Véhicule Press, 1999, $15.95, by Andrew Steinmetz, BA'89.

Walk into any hospital and the majority of the staff you'll come into contact with won't be doctors or surgeons but orderlies, nurses, and harried looking people working a front desk in one unit or another. Andrew Steinmetz is perhaps one of the more ideal candidates to write about those daily hospital routines, the occasional happy recoveries, but more often than not the regular, overwhelming banality of illness, disease and death as they occur in the lives of everyday folk. He's been a rock musician, a librarian, a hospital clerk -- an ordinary Joe, watching ordinary people die -- but with this, his first book, he emerges most definitely as a talented young writer.

Wardlife grows out of his successive stints as unit co-ordinator in the intensive care unit and the Emergency ward of a Montreal hospital, written in fits and starts during his shifts there, and it's a remarkable work. This is in part because it touches much more elegantly on that same nerve as the TV medical dramas -- what would happen if I had a heart attack? A malignant tumour? It's also because Steinmetz manages to pull off that rarely achieved trick of turning jargon into poetry and captures the human condition, at its most vulnerable moments, in a series of very brief, very intense vignettes of life on the ward through the eyes of not a superhuman doctor but a lowly ward clerk.

"I am the unit co-ordinator. The UC. Non-medical staff. A civilian among the troops.... Someone who sits on the guard rail between sickness and health, whistles while he works, some who knows as little magic as medicine and practices the authority of neither."

Throughout the book, Steinmetz is the lay person's eyes inside what, for most of us, is a mysterious fear-inspiring place, part cathedral, part slaughterhouse. Much of what he sees is what we fear the most:

"W died. Days ago, Dr. H and Dr. M opened her belly in Room 48. I looked in on my rounds and W's bowel was coiled up on her stomach like a cat. A clock, opened and the mechanical innards had popped out.... There was something diabolical about it, obscene, I had to see more -- not to look, but to verify what I had seen."

The world of Wardlife is a disturbing juxtaposition of the profound and mundane, just like the hospital itself. We move from a coiled bowel atop a dead belly, to watching Steinmetz figure out who the Szechuan take-out has been delivered for. It's fascinating in a hypochondriac sort of way, and written in precise, luminous prose. Certainly, it will be interesting watching this apprentice move beyond the vignette in his next work.


The Montreal Maroons: The Forgotten Stanley Cup Champions, Véhicule Press, 1999, $18, by William Brown, BSc'67.

This book hearkens back to the good old days -- a different era in hockey and a time when the Maroons ruled the Montreal Forum. The author details a rich history of the bitter rivalry between the Maroons and the Canadiens, which grew to legendary proportions. Theirs were epic battles on the ice, which often spilled into the stands and onto the streets.

The free-spending Maroons were founded during the Roaring Twenties and quickly became despised by the other teams in the National Hockey League after signing players to outrageously high-paying contracts. (And we thought this was just a modern-day phenomenon!) They survived the Great Depression but folded in 1938, after 14 roller-coaster seasons and two Stanley Cups. William Brown's book looks at the history of this amazing team, their impact on the NHL and their heyday during the 1920s and 1930s.

Brown focuses on key Maroons figures who were part of some unforgettable moments in NHL history. He chronicles how netminder Clint Benedict became the first goaltender to wear a mask, decades before Jacques Plante. The author also unravels the heart-wrenching tale of how Canadiens' legendary Howie Morenz suffered a badly broken leg -- in a game against the Maroons -- an injury that ended his life six weeks later due to an embolism.

In an era of one-goalie teams, toughness and dedication were essential qualities of professional athletes -- and their coaches. Brown recounts a famous anecdote that provides insight into the character of New York's Hall of Fame coach Lester Patrick. During the finals of the 1928 Stanley Cup between New York and the heavily favoured Maroons, goalie Lorne Chabot of the Rangers suffered a season-ending facial injury. The Maroons refused to do the gentlemanly thing and allow Alex Connell, the Ottawa Senators goaltender who happened to be sitting in the stands, to suit up and finish the game for New York. Patrick, a 44-year-old former McGill player, stepped down from his perch behind the Rangers bench to go between the pipes. He ended up winning the game, which was the turning point in the Rangers capturing the Stanley Cup that season. The Maroons, not a popular team by any stretch of the imagination, were forever branded as villains.

Despite some well-researched and great anecdotes in hockey history, the book occasionally tends to get bogged down in superfluous details. As an avid hockey historian, even I found it difficult to follow at times. The book lacks structure, which could make for a less-than-easy read for the average hockey fan.

Sports Information Officer
McGill Department of Athletics

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