144 pages
ISBN 0-07-548455-2




Reviewed by Les Harding

Les Harding is author of The Voyages of Lesser Men: Thumbnail Sketches
in Canadian Exploration.


The word is repellent! Readers with better things to do are advised to pass on. The remainder of this review will be an elaboration of that first statement.

Riffs, set in a drop-in centre for ex-convicts, winos, drug addicts and the like, is another of those dreadful novels of social realism that so afflict Canadian literature. Every paragraph has its obligatory sprinkling of “sonofabitches,” and “chrissakes.” “Out of” is always “outa.” Riffs reeks of Canadian, or at least Toronto, content. Open it at random and you will surely find the horsemen, the 401, the QEW, a Queen Street dive, or some deadbeat cruising a Canadian Tire store. Characters in Riffs never walk, they cruise, just as they never wear clothes, preferring “five bills worth of threads.” The author of Riffs has seen too many Cheech & Chong movies. The book is written in a contrived hip style which, through constant exposure, becomes very annoying. Man, by the time I reached the end, like, I was ready to drop this dog dirt down the nearest man hole. Riffs tries hard to be funny and socially significant. It occasionally succeeds at the former but never at the latter. We are meant to empathize with the losers who inhabit Riffs, but I did not. Most of the characters I loathed. To the author’s credit he does come out with a decent bit of imagery from time to time but the end result of Riffs is crude, unconvincing, unsympathetic, and above all else, repellent.


MacLaurin, Douglas, “Riffs,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/38457.