Robert Kroetsch's Alibi

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Calgary's Mount Royal, in the early 20th century (Photo: Peel Library, University of Alberta)

Calgary's Mount Royal, in the early 20th century (Photo: Peel Library, University of Alberta)

William William Dorfen travels the world looking for artefacts for his oilman boss, a man with a “barbarian fortune.” Jack Deemer is “the richest of the many rich men spawned in the Alberta oil patch, like so many hatched salamanders.” A recluse, he hides in his mansion on Mount Royal’s Prospect Avenue behind a “guardian row of spruce.” Like Eric Harvie, the renowned Calgary collector Kroetsch used as inspiration, Deemer stores his collections in warehouses around the city, one “in each of the four quadrants of that mathematical city.” His agent Dorf imagines the wealthy oilman prowling his warehouses while the city sleeps, poking through crates and cases. “Perhaps he is appalled, each night, by what he hasn’t got, by all that has escaped him, a calving iceberg, an eclipse of the sun, a single pained or singing or loving voice from the Middle Ages.” Near the end of the novel, Dorf returns to his Calgary apartment to continue his quest on Deemer’s behalf.

 

I got up early in the morning when the city too was asleep. When the city was, in its ritual way, dead. The sun comes up early and strong on the horizon; the sleepers of the city writhe in their sweaty beds, grope, one last time, or reach, or recoil. And I was their watcher. That booming city, in the quiet of the first-dawn light, that sunburnt city has its nightmares too.

 

Robert Kroetsch, Alibi (Stoddart, 1983)