McArthur & Co., 2002, 314 pages, C$10.99 mmpb, ISBN 1-55278-263-8
Winter 2002 was a good season for Canadian sports. After two major Olympic successes in hockey, curling was consecrated as a hip sport with the release of a major motion picture about the sport. MEN WITH BROOMS was a Canadian attempt at churning out a romantic sports comedy in the Hollywood mould, though with a purely Canadian flavour.
But for such a nationalistic endeavour, the marketing techniques were blatantly stolen from the Americans: Catchy movie trailer, media saturation techniques through interviews, TV spots, triumphant articles on “the new Canadian cinema”, cross-media soundtrack promotion and, heavens, a paperback novelization of the script.
As an object, it’s definitely a curio: It’s amusing to hold in one’s hand such a quirky object, an attempt at combining crass materialism with literary respect. Indeed, the very physical incarnation of the book is strange; printed on whiter paper than usual, in a slightly wider and sturdier format than most paperbacks, Men With Brooms is something new for the Canadian publishing industry.
But enough about the object. The narrative inside is compelling enough. Surprise, it’s about loners trying to regain the affection and respect of others through competitive rock-sliding. Fans of curling who loved the film will go nuts for this novelization, given that it sports such one-liners as “To encourage the rock, which no doubt would have preferred to be left alone enjoying being a rock, men with brooms run in strong of the wildly spinning and possibly nauseous rock, sweeping… like deranged housewives.” [P.1-2] If there’s an area where both book and film excel, it’s in cheerleading for the sport. (As for describing curling matches, well, the film version is far more exciting. But then again, that comment applies to almost any sport, at the possible exception of chess.) The other area where both succeed well is in some shameless flag-waving: It would be a touch too presumptuous to credit Men With Brooms with resurgent nationalism, but most Canadians will, in fact, feel great about their country after reading such a distinctly nationalist novel.
Diane Baker Mason does a great job, not only at faithfully adapting the screenplay, but in adding several details, character traits and even whole scenes to pad out the screenplay and explain the action. Whether some of those scenes were written but later cut from the film or a product of the author’s skill is something we’ll find out on the upcoming DVD, but in the meantime they do a great job at clarifying the action, deepening the characters or simply adding to the story. Stuckmore’s trip back to Long Bay and “Joanne”’s back-story are the most obvious additions, but small details here and there add up to a nice adaptation.
The passage to prose also seems to even out some of the film’s most incongruous tone shifts. Film is a tricky medium, and a director never quite knows what he’s going to end up with. Scenes that should be funny aren’t, and a sad scene sandwiched between two comedy sequences can have an effect on an entire section of the film. Here, though, the consistent voice of the author smoothes some of the rougher edges in a more harmonious whole.
All of the above doesn’t even mention how much fun it is to read this novel. Men With Brooms is the kind of book, movie tie-in or not, that’s just wonderful to enjoy. Best read besides the fireplace on a cold, cold Canadian Winter night, it’s hard to say something disparaging about this novelization, even considering usual prejudices against commercialism and marketing. Time will tell if Men With Brooms finds a place as an enjoyable work of Canadian goodness, but as for this reviewer, it already is.