Clara by Don Lyons was published in December 1985, fourteen months after Yorkville Diaries. My library system acquired an interloan copy from York University. It is hard to find the novels of this promising Toronto author. When I ran into former This Ain’t the Rosedale Library co-owner Dan Bazuin at a book launch last month, I asked about Lyons, since I had bought Yorkville Diaries at Bazuin’s store over thirty years ago. Dan recalled that Lyons was now around seventy years old and living in Calgary. So now my author hunt continues out west.
Clara is a short novel of 110 pages, telling the story of a mysterious woman who enters the lives of Leo and his best friend Robert. The boys are in grade twelve and around eighteen years old, while Clara appears to be in her early thirties. She is a pianist who encounters Robert while he is rehearsing piano on his own in a study room at the “Conservatory”, which is the Royal Conservatory of Music. He becomes infatuated with her and soon the pair are inseparable. Before Robert had met Clara he had rented a room at “48” [ = 48 Bedford Road, the same address used in Yorkville Diaries] with money from an inheritance. It became a convenient place for the couple to hang out. Clara starts out as a straightforward teenage love story then evolves into a delusion of fantasy talk, as Clara goes all over the map in her storytelling. She tells the boys in offhand remarks of her encounters with musical and literary giants like Goethe. Leo and Robert shrug it off and don’t make much of it, seeing as by now she’s sleeping with both of them and I can suppose neither one wants to upset the apple cart by asking Clara why she’s talking like an insane woman. Leo accepts that Clara even prefers to refer to him by another name, yet he does question Robert:
“Why was Clara calling me Johannes back at 48?”
the first time it happens. Robert seems to be aware that Clara comes out with crazy remarks, for he answers in a way that reveals that he’s not so sure himself:
“Clara says that, uh, … Clara–“
Clara is demonstrative and acts as if the world revolves around her. She is thus used to getting her own way around Robert and Leo. It is easy for her to be this way knowing that each boy finds it a thrill to be sleeping with an older woman, yet Robert isn’t aware that Leo is sleeping with her. Leo does suffer pangs of guilt when he is in Robert’s company. Clara can talk a mile a minute and leaves no room for debate. She convinces Robert and Leo to move with her to Leipzig, yet at the last minute Leo pulls out, which Clara does not accept. The story is meant to continue, as the book ends with the note “Clara is the first of three short novels: Clara, Robert, Colleen” yet as far as I know, the second and third never appeared.
One interesting fact never alluded to in Yorkville Diaries is that Leo is of Icelandic heritage. I wondered why, of all things, during a visit home he encounters his parents singing Icelandic folk songs, such as “Anna litla”. Then we learn more about Leo’s childhood in Reykjavík:
“My father began talking of our life in Reykjavik and how in Iceland there are few fireplaces. No wood to burn.”
“…I told of how when I was eight I had a pony named Vinnear. I told how all Icelandic children are good riders.”
Clara was another rapid read, just like Yorkville Diaries. Why didn’t Lyons continue this trilogy? I can only find one other novel by him, Brown Rice. I wonder if that one is based in Toronto in the late sixties as well. If you can get your hands on this author’s works, grab the chance. I want to read everything he has written.