For Canada Day: A Book About Canadian Vaudeville

Well, it’s Canada Day! And it’s made me crazy watching our remedial pseudo-President do dirt to America’s closest neighbor and best ally of late, so I thought I’d augment my existing tribute to the Canadians of show business, with a plug for a book I’d long wanted to check out, Marina Endicott’s 2011 The Little Shadows.

Before becoming an award-winning writer of fiction, Canadian-born Endicott was an actress, stage director and dramaturg for many years. This deep connection to the theatre permeates The Little Shadows, set in the vaudeville circuits on the eve of World War One. It’s a sort of tripartite bildungsroman, in which a Canadian sister act, a singing trio consisting of teenagers Aurora, Clover and Bella grope their way from innocence to adulthood, with and without the guidance of their mother, herself a former vaudevillian. The book’s chief virtue is the careful construction of the world the characters inhabit; vividly realized are the venues themselves, the acts who perform there, the staff who make the industry run, and the living conditions of showfolk a century ago. At over 500 pages, there is much room to get lost in the imaginative head space of classic vaudeville and who doesn’t want to be there?

Endicott’s literary touch is a gossamer one. Don’t expect a lot of SLAM-BANG-WOWEE-ZOWEE. Her rhythms are more like the flowing fabrics of Loie Fuller than the rat-a-tat percussion George M. Cohan. But gentleness and beauty and patience being in such short supply these days, I highly recommend this pleasurable escape into Endicott’s twisting, turning historical universe. Like vaudeville itself you will discover its effects to be therapeutic.