Tobias Mushinsky is a bit of a star in his hometown of Montreal. That is, until a death in the family and a failed experiment with Nyquil lead him to ruin. A disastrous one-night stand leaves him with a little boy named Hugo in his life, and a way to get it back. Winner of the Alberta Book Award for best novel of 2010. Nominated for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.
Toby: A Man displays more sophistication, wit and insight than the majority of literary fiction published in Canada today… Especially good are the scenes in which Toby, an only child, is confronted by his own feelings of horror, betrayal, guilt and helplessness at the forced realization of his elderly parents’ declining powers.
Babiak’s firm, eloquent narrative style and keen ear for natural dialogue ensure the swift and sure flow of the story. There are many moving moments, and the book is lightened with humour, particularly in the character of the television tycoon who becomes Toby’s mentor. The story grips away and never falters, and the Montreal setting is fully evoked and used to excellent effect.
-Globe and Mail
The transformation of Toby from self-conscious “gentleman” to involved, feeling “man” is handled deftly, and with grace and subtlety.
As one might expect from Babiak, Toby: A Man also allows for a range of broad humour, from hilarious set pieces (as when Toby attempts to change Hugo’s dirty diaper in the bathroom of one of his parents’ hotdog restaurants, with Toby walking “in circles to psyche himself up, a boxer who knows he is outmatched by the fiend in the ring”) to insightful caricatures (including that of Mr. Demsky, the aging, debauched and oddly wise owner of the TV station, who emerges as the closest thing Toby has to a friend). The writing is breezy and witty, subtly subversive.
Like The Garneau Block, Babiak’s 2006 satire on modern life in oil-rich Edmonton (which was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize), Toby is a vivid, humourous portrait of Canadians navigating the mores of our culture in a subtle self-effacing (in other words, archetypically Canadian) fashion. This time, however, Babiak has shifted his focus from Alberta to the middle-class, Anglo suburbs of Montreal’s West Island, giving him the opportunity to explore facets of Canadianness untouched in his previous novels: the gulf between English and French Canada, and between Anglo residents of Quebec and pûres laines. These cultural clashes add depth and complexity to an already compelling cast of characters.
…so deliciously cringe-worthy it could stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of Ricky Gervais.
Babiak exploits the family dynamic in the same way as Woody Allen.
-Quill and Quire