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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Book Review: The Convictions of Leonard McKinley

Every Labour Day Weekend since 1977, writers have gathered to sweat, cry and produce amazing 3-day novels. This “trial by deadline” is going on right now. www.3daynovel.com

But I have other things to do this weekend, like making peach pie, so instead of whipping off a novel, I’m reading The Convictions of Leonard McKinley by Brendan McLeod, a recently published winner of the 3-Day Novel Contest.

McLeod’s protagonist Leonard is a crazy piece of work. I imagine he was born amidst too much caffeine and too little sleep.

In some ways The Convictions of Leonard McKinley is a morality play. Wikipedia defines this as “a type of theatrical allegory in which the protagonist is met by personifications of various moral attributes who try to prompt him to choose a godly life over one of evil.”

For Leonard the morally bad take the form of round-bottomed cute girls, his desires to achieve NBA fame, and his increasing interest in deviance.

There is certainly a secular nature to Leonard’s desires that conflict with his visions of martyrdom. He promises God that if he performs well at basketball try-outs that he’ll open up an adoption agency when he’s older.

But what starts as innocent questioning of God and morals in the 6-year-old Leonard, even in the teenaged Leonard, gives way to a form of religious fanatisism that cripples him.

The Convictions of Leonard McKinley could be renamed The Ethical Trials of Leonard McKinley. As a child Leonard executes ethical trials for himself: if he is good, his father won’t have another heart attack. As a teen he believes that saying the Lords Prayer and volunteering at the Red Cross will ensure his mother’s safe return home from late nights at the office. But as Leonard enters university his convictions that well being is a reward or punishment determined by God lead to darker thoughts about homosexual yearnings and pedophilia. He creates trials for himself that were funny child-like behaviour earlier but are now disturbing.

Leonard is pretty creepy but the novel is good.

I agree with the quote by author Terence Young, “Brendan McLeod presents us with a protagonist who is at once mesmerizing and ridiculous, charming and offensive ... He draws our attention like a really good house fire.”

And with kind permission from 3-Day Books, here is a short excerpt:

The Convictions of Leonard McKinley by Brendan McLeod.

When Leonard turns six, his father buys him a bike without training wheels because he wants to learn to ride like he is escaping from assassins with lasers. Leonard’s father shuffles him up and down the street, breathing hard at his side until he sustains heart palpitations and Leonard takes off on his own. He flies around the suburban streets of Calgary until he can no longer see his house and has to stop at a store for directions.

“I can’t tell you unless you buy something,” says the clerk. Leonard has no money, so he kicks down the newsstand outside and rides away crying. Two hours later a policeman finds him sulking against a tree and puts his bike into the backseat. He drives Leonard halfway home, but pulls a U-turn after hearing the whole story. They return to the convenience store and the policeman disappears inside for ten minutes. When he comes back out Leonard asks him what happened.

“I gave the bad man a ticket,” says the officer.

“What for?”

“Being a dick.”

“Awesome,” says Leonard.

The policeman pulls away. “Did you kick down his newsstand?”



When the policeman pulls up in front of Leonard’s house his father is being wheeled away on a gurney. The large lights of an ambulance reflect off the gleam of the neighbours’ gaping mouths behind their windows. Leonard’s older brother Steve is standing on the walkway, his hands over his lips as though afraid something will escape from him.

Leonard’s younger brother Nick is wandering around outside wearing his costume from his fourth birthday party last week. Their mother had allowed him to dress up as the sheriff, so he locked his friend Pete in the laundry room after he hadn’t given him a present that involved the California Raisins.

Now, Nick moseys up to the police car. Leonard and the officer quickly get out.

“You killed Dad!” Nick shouts at Leonard. Then he shoots the police officer full of imaginary bullets and dives behind a bush.

“Shut up, Nick!” Steve yells.

Their mother runs up to Leonard and holds him tight to her waist. Then she smacks him on the bum for going missing and kisses his forehead to assure him their father is going to be okay.

Mrs. Shelbourne from next door comes over to look after them while their mother follows the ambulance to the hospital. They eat dinner in silence. Steve, who is in grade six, won’t talk to Leonard because he is just a stupid little kid who still gets lost. Nick won’t speak to Mrs. Shelbourne because she beat him at Hungry Hungry Hippos, except to briefly accuse her of cheating. Mrs. Shelbourne threatens to send him to his room for being impertinent, so Nick says he was just worried about their dad in the hopes that she’ll feel sorry for him and give him a cookie. She doesn’t fall for it and Nick refuses to eat his peas in protest.

Brendan McLeod is a writer, musican, spoken word artist, former Canadian SLAM poetry champion, and previous winner of the 3-Day Novel Contest.

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