The Spitting Champion of the World: Memories of Antigonish.


270 pages
ISBN 978-0-670-06483-0
DDC 971.6'0404092






Reviewed by Geoff Hamilton

Geoff Hamilton is a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of
British Columbia.


Noted crime writer Max Haines offers here a partly fictionalized memoir of his life in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, covering the period from his childhood there in the 1930s to his return to the town with his wife, Marilyn, in the late 1950s. The material, arranged into short chapters, includes his experiences at a Catholic school under the tyranny of Mother St. Regina, a homoerotically charged encounter with a dashing and saintly hobo allegedly killed in a train accident (the least plausible of the stories), his misadventures as a chicken plucker, freelance lobster hunter, and bootlegger, as well as the titular tale of GoGo Green, who became locally and famous briefly for “having manufactured and delivered the most colossal spit of all time.”


For those who typically look to Haines for lurid accounts of transgression in the true crime genre, this may be a disappointing collection. The subject is small-town maritime Canada in (mostly) the pre-WWII era, and the stories feature the kooky and quaint more than the vile and vicious. Haines notes in his introduction that “Some of the stories have been embellished.” In fact, the broad caricature and wide-eyed point of view found in these colourful “memories” of Antigonish tend to come off as pure fabrication, or rather like impure imitations of, for instance, Mark Twain’s tall tales or Garrison Keillor’s folksy yarns. Moreover, there is an off-putting juvenile lasciviousness to some of the later material, as in one chapter describing the seduction of young nurses (“Let’s face it, both girls were decidedly horny”) and another documenting Marilyn’s loss of her bathing suit and its erotic, and apparently fertile, provocation of the author. Nevertheless, Haines’ gift for simple, punchy storytelling, and his exuberant rendering of regional legend, keeps this memoir moving along swiftly; those who appreciate his blunt humour may find much to enjoy here.


Haines, Max., “The Spitting Champion of the World: Memories of Antigonish.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 27, 2024,