Canned Lit: (Parodies Regained, Then Frozen and Thawed)


227 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-7737-2417-6
DDC C810.9'000207





Reviewed by Gildas Roberts

Gildas Roberts is a university professor of English at the Memorial
University of Newfoundland.


What can one say about a book that sets out to be funny all the time but
manages only to be faintly amusing in parts?

Readers’ hearts may begin to sink when they see the subtitle:
Parodies Regained, Then Frozen and Thawed. I’m afraid you get this
throughout much of the book: puns not good enough to be witty and not
bad enough to be perversely pleasing, merely mediocre enough to be
depressing. Turn the page and you find this dedication: “To my wife
Merle, who teaches Canadian Literature so brilliantly, and to our
children Judah and Elishiva, who are just now beginning to love Can
Lit.” O, dear me; to the facetiousness is added fawning: “Gee, guys,
I know I’m gonna make fun of Can Lit, but you know I really do revere
it, dontcha, eh?”

The preface calls the book “a collection of profiles of Major
 Canadian  Authors, as well as . . . an attempt to parody some of
their writings.” The profiles are not very good. Facetious wordplay
abounds. Margaret Atwood’s poems fight “against evil and man
unkind,” and Survival is described as a “seminal (if you’ll pardon
the male image; it might be more correct to say ovumular) book of
criticism.” Of Bliss Carman it says he “got tired of the rat race in
Connecticut and the Catskills (he kept betting on the wrong rat and lost
almost his entire inheritance), and chose to return to Canada.”
Michael Ondaatje is described as “indisputably the best Ceylonese poet
in the history of Canada.” And so it goes.

The parodies are generally embarrassingly weak—except, perhaps, that
of the Newfoundland plays of David French. (His Of the Fields, Lately is
said to be “essentially About the Same Thing, Boringly.” Touché.

Some of the plot summaries are quite amusing, especially “The
Complete Plot of the Deptford Trilogy in One Paragraph,” the potted
critical guide to Ernest Buckler’s The Mountain and the Valley, and
the brief tour of Northrop Frye’s literary theory.

But on the whole, Canned Lit fails to satisfy. Can Lit, and
academia’s Can Lit industry, cry out to be satirized, but Gould fails
to do the job adequately. The awful solemnity with which Canadian books
and writers are discussed on cbc’s “The Arts Tonight” and in other
venues, and the jargon-clogged and often very silly lucubrations of Can
Lit academics, demand to be pierced by the flashing rapier of a John
Metcalfe’s wit, not tickled by the soggy spaghetti strands of an Allen
Gould’s jokeyness.


Gould, Allan., “Canned Lit: (Parodies Regained, Then Frozen and Thawed),” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 24, 2024,