Stanley Park: A Novel by Timothy Taylor (Toronto: Knopf Canada, 2001. 432 pp)
Born in Venezuela, Timothy Taylor grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. He attended the University of Alberta and Queen’s University. Taylor published his first novel, Stanley Park, in 2001. His two latest novels, Story House and The Blue Light Project were shortlisted for the CBC Bookie Prize. A winner of the Journey Prize, Taylor works as a contributing editor for Vancouver Magazine and has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers.
Although I am an American, I consider myself, equally (if not more so), a Cascadian. Culturally speaking, I feel a closer affinity to British Columbians than Americans residing on the Eastern Seaboard. Even if my national allegiance lies with a New Yorker, my culinary tradition, weather, and regional tongue align with a Vancouverite.
Given the regional connections between Seattle and Vancouver, I thoroughly enjoyed Timothy Taylor’s novel, Stanley Park.
Culinary Crips versus Bloods
Set in Vancouver at the beginning of the new millennium, Stanley Park tells the story of Chef Jeremy Papier. Upon completing training in France, Jeremy returns to his native British Columbia, inspired to run a restaurant imparting simple and locally rooted dishes for the Vancouver public. Jeremy’s inspiration extends from his culinary training.
“Crips versus Bloods. Crip cooks were critical. They fused, they strove for innovation, they were post-national. They called themselves artists. They tended to stack things like mahi mahi and grilled eggplant in wobbly towers glued together with wasabi mayonnaise, and were frequently suspicious of butter. Vegetarianism was an option for Crips but not for Bloods. Blood cooks were respectful of tradition, nostalgic even. Canonical, interested in the veracity of things culinary, linked to ‘local’ by inheritance or adoption of a culture, linked to a particular manner and place of being. Blood cooks liked sweetbreads and pot-au-feu. Bloods ate tacos, bratwurst, borscht. They used lard and as much foie gras as they could get their hands on. They made cassoulet to the recipe left by Louis Cazals and, depending on where the Bloods called home, they might like kimchi, salmon planked on cedar, fish stew with sausage, or twice-cooked duck.
Chef Jeremy Papier was Blood” (32-33).
Partnering with a talented culinary artist named Jules and funded by local entrepreneur and childhood neighbor Dante Beal, Jeremy opens the Monkey’s Paw Bistro.
The Kite of Debt
Despite critical acclaim, debt mounts as Jeremy strains to keep the restaurant afloat.
“People rarely set out to kite in a controlled way. More often financial kites soar out of sight with terrifying speed, the virtual string burning through your fingers. Jeremy could remember precisely how his own went aloft. It started with his line of credit at the Toronto Dominion Bank, $230,000 guaranteed by Dante Beale” (54).
Struggling to survive, Jeremy soon finds the reins of his restaurant in the hands of Dante, his financier. CEO of Inferno Coffee, an obvious allusion to Starbucks, Dante represents everything Jeremy hates—the Crip to his Blood.
When a Blood Becomes a Crip
A perpetual profit maximizer, Dante shuts down The Monkey’s Paw and remodels the restaurant for a grand opening as Gerriamo’s, a post-national restaurant and product of extensive market research. Dante maintains the employment of Jeremy as executive chef but the arrangement leaves Jeremy bitter and his friend, Jules, unemployed.
As Gerriamo’s grand opening inches closer, Jeremy plans the best menu he has ever prepared.
Stanley Park: A Homeless Sanctuary
|Photo by Trey Ratcliff|
In addition to this narrative thread resides a secondary story surrounding Jeremy and his father, a professor studying the homeless of Stanley Park. Living with the park inhabitants, Jeremy’s dad receives uninterrupted access to these peripatetic people.
While studying, the professor encounters the story of the Babes in the Wood, Stanley Park’s unsolved murder mystery from the early 50s when the skeletons of two young boys were found in the dense forest of the city park.
Requesting library research from Jeremy, the father and son draw close as Jeremy relays information about the case and becomes accustomed to the inhabitants and dining rituals of Stanley Park.
“Then he lay back in the ferns to let it all flow over him. Jeremy stood at the centre of his own diagram, the Professor thought. In the thick of his own woods. A joined drama. People turning against the wind, returning to Eden. Those seeking reconciliation with the stable rhythms of the earth, with their own beginnings. Here, in the park, where out of desperation, for lack of options, a living theatre of rootedness had been reborn from distant tragedy. In Jeremy’s kitchen, where a sense of lost connection played out in culinary theatrics about the return to a familiar soil” (194).
Global or Local?
As the two narratives intertwine, questions of culture, rootedness, and place in a globalized society become apparent. Which aspects of life are we willing to submit to the tides of global commerce? Which ones will we fight tooth and nail for?
I find the topics of Stanley Park particularly current despite being a decade old. With society questioning food in the wake of Food, Inc. and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Stanley Park offers a fictional addition to this “food” canon.
Even though I struggled at times to discover the connections between the novel’s storylines, I enjoyed the local flavor of Stanley Park. A product of Cascadia, the culinary tradition of Vancouver resembles Seattle’s tradition. I enjoyed the themes present in Stanley Park and applaud Taylor’s writing. If you are interested in food or Vancouver, read this book.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
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