When I accepted the commission to review The Tim Tebow CFL Chronicles, I assumed I was agreeing to read some sort of mundane Canadian sports history, which, while outside my usual haunts, is a genre with which I have experience . I had a vague awareness that Tebow existed and that he played one of the lesser sports known south of the border. It made perfect sense that such a person might try to better themself by playing one of the many superior sports native to Canada — football, hockey, lacrosse, snow plow coup-counting — but it turns out I had totally misjudged the genre. This multimedia work, which can be experienced only on the web, belongs to another genre (but also one with which I am fairly familiar): absurdist sports fantasy.
His career in the USA’s National Football League over, Tebow decides to move laterally into American gridiron football’s older brother, Canadian football. While he is aware that Canadian football differs in some details from the quaint version played in the United States, he hopes his skills will be transferable to the Canadian Football League. Tebow’s not the first American athlete to move north, so this seems like a perfectly reasonable move on his part.
Tebow barely has time to begin to grasp the many subtle ways in which Canada differs from the US (from the peculiar tipping customs to our vast network of speaking tubes) when he is given the opportunity to experience the sports equivalent of the Actor’s Nightmare. He finds himself thrust onto the field prematurely and without even the courtesy of a briefing, expected to play a game whose rules and basic equipment differ in many ways from the American standard — differences that were greater than he could ever have expected.
To his credit, despite the fact that he has never before played Canadian football, is unfamiliar with Canadian football equipment, and is so completely ignorant of the rules that even something as well known as the Bound for Street option is unfamiliar to him, Tebow rises to the occasion. As chapter one closes, he and his team set out on what proves to be the finest 185,000-yard-plus down-field run in Canadian football history.
Just to get my one big complaint about the book out of the way first:
Volquez: And what’s the legal drinking age in Canada?
Volquez: Except in Quebec, where it’s?
The legal drinking age in Canada is nineteen in most provinces and eighteen in Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec . You may well ask “how much hilarity do Canadian drinking ages cause in regions of Canada adjacent to and accessible from regions in the US where drinking ages are much higher?” The answer is “lots.”
A number of works first published on the web have successfully made the transition to book form, but this won’t be one of them (or at least that is an experiment that should not be tried). Rather than settling for web publication, Bois revels in it, taking advantage of options other media cannot match. Sending this to print would mean the loss of the embedded elements and they are a big part of what makes this work so enjoyable. It’s major fun when each new unexpected image pops out, which is why I have tried hard to contain my urge to link to them.
Having burned through a half a gigabyte of download in about ten minutes while double-checking a couple of quotations, I do have to warn you not to read this work on your phone if by chance you’re not connected to a bottomless supply of wifi at the time.
It is easy to tell that Bois has done his research, as one can tell from passages like:
It’s typical for an American visitor to Canada to take in its January climates and wonder why humans would voluntarily live there. In many parts of the country, the average low temperature hangs around negative-15 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s not at all rare for the temperatures — not the wind chill, the temperature — to reach 25 below zero. During its day, the planet Mars gets warmer than that. A town in Yukon once recorded a temperature of negative-81 degrees.
Canadians can trace their ancestries all across the world, particularly in Toronto and Montreal, home to populations as diverse as any you would see in America. But once human beings survive a few Canadian winters, they toughen up in a very real way. They’re hardened, both physically and spiritually. If you have ever driven a snowmobile through Nunavut, or stepped out of a Montreal metro station and been greeted by a thousand invisible daggers of ice, you might agree that it’s not unlike, say, landing on the roof of a Rav4 from 65 feet.
This does tend to make a Canadian far less easily hurt, but they can still be knocked over.
Bois’ occasional deadpan forays away from hard fact are by choice and not mere ignorance. My ignorance may have been more of an issue. I imagine that if I knew more about Tebow, I would have picked up on jokes I missed.
Just the fact that Bois knew who the Atlantic Schooners was additional proof that he had done his homework. That said, this passage:
Tebow: It’s like Canada’s the version of America where everything works right.
Means: Ha. You know, I try to stay away from the “version of America” thing. It feels presumptuous. Given all they’re accomplishing up here, maybe we’re the pale imitator of Canada.
Tebow: So America’s Kroger-brand Canada.
Means: Right! They’re Captain Crunch, we’re Mr. Rhinoceros Pirate or whatever.
Tebow is, I gather, famed for his displays of religious faith, the sort of celebrity at whom would easy to take cheap shots. Bois eschews that approach; his Tebow certainly has views on religion:
I am shamed. The funny thing about being a religious man surrounded by those who might not be so religious; when you do something wrong, everybody notices. You’re held to a higher standard by people who don’t even buy into that standard necessarily. This is not a complaint.
By the cash register, you’ll see little mints for sale. They’re Christian mints! They’re called TestaMints, and they come in little wrappers with Bible verses on them, the idea being that offering someone a breath mint is a Trojan horse for the purpose of witnessing Christ. I imagine the sort of person who reforms their beliefs because candy told them to, and I feel genuine, aching pity
Bois’ fictional Tebow still comes across as a likable enough guy, not one of those “Old Testament rules for you, New Testament rules for me!” Christians.
Although I think the ending doesn’t quite live up to the rest of the book, I enjoyed the work as a whole a great deal and would recommend it to Canadians as a charming comedy and to Americans as a completely believable work of realist fiction. Remember to look for the shouting tubes when you visit Toronto!
1: Ditto mundane sports fiction, albeit generally of a mustier vintage than this particular work. For some reason the two-room rural schoolhouse I attended had an ample supply of older sports fiction, older as in pre-hockey mask older; the one-eyed hockey coach who used to be a goalie before they were forced out of the game by a crippling puck-related injury was a stock character type in Canadian sports fiction prior to Jaques Plante.
Josephsberg Public School looked like it was built in the 1950s, or maybe the early 1960s, but the books in the library dated back to the 1930s and 1940s. They were an odd mix for a school in Ontario. One of the kids books was a stern denunciation of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico. I guess that was to inoculate Canada against the ever-present menace of ambitious Habsburg aristocrats.
On the upside, if it wasn’t for those books I wouldn’t know to get my feet fluoroscoped in my shoes to make sure they fit. For some reason, none of the shoe stores in Kitchener-Waterloo offered in-store coin-operated x‑ray machines. In my day, we didn’t niggle at a little harmless radiation [*].
2: The rules pertaining to underage people drinking at home under parental supervision are more complicated than I want to get into here, although I will say that (unsurprisingly) Alberta has the most liberal laws in this matter (basically, if the parentals say it is OK, kids in a “residence” can be drunk off their asses 24/7). As we know, the most effective anesthesia for the pain of being Albertan is alcohol and lots of it.
If you are from Toronto … I am afraid that stronger medicine is needed.
*: I usually learn things thanks to these reviews and what I learned when I was fact-checking footnote 1 is that shoe store fluoroscopes survived into the 1970s. The 1970s.