Chances are, if you're not Canadian, you aren't familiar with Stuart McLean or the Vinyl Cafe. We Canucks, however, have been hooked ever since his radio show debuted in 1994. Originally intended to be a summer replacement show, it's still going strong today. 'The Vinyl Cafe' could best be described as an old-style variety show. It has readings, music, and most of all , stories told by Stuart McLean. These stories all revolve around a married couple, Dave and Morley, their two kids, Stephanie and Sam, and their various friends and relations. Dave owns and runs a music store called The Vinyl Cafe.
His stories are not ones of fantastical happenings, but rather of the events which occur in lives and families which are of little significance to anyone but those involved... the little things which make up life. His tales are always funny- hence the humour award- but also tinged with nostalgia, able to tug the heartstrings. It's not uncommon to be wiping away a tear of laughter, and then suddenly find yourself blinking back a tear of quite a different sort. CDs of his stories have whiled away many a long car ride... I remember once I was going somewhere with my brother, and we arrived at our destination in the middle of a story about Dave's mother in Cape Breton. We parked and sat in the car, listening until the end, unwilling to miss anything.
"He was still awake at 2:00 am, but at least he had a plan. He would wait until they left for the Food Bank. Then he would take off to some deserted Newfoundland outport and live under an assumed name. At Sam's graduation one of his friends would ask, "Why isn't your father here?" and Sam would have to explain that, "One Christmas he forgot to buy the turkey and he had to leave."
Dave's frantic attempts to find a turkey and hide the entire fiasco from Morley result in his riding about in a taxi at 4 am in search of a 24 hour grocery store. He manages to find the last turkey left in the city, but it's frozen solid. He ends up at home, thawing it out with the help of an electric blanket and hair dryer. As it thaws, Dave realizes why this turkey had remained unsold:
"The skin on its right drumstick was ripped. Dave's turkey looked like it had made a break from the slaughterhouse and dragged itself a block or two before it was captured and beaten to death. Dave poured another Scotch and began to refer to his bird as Butch. He turned Butch over and found another slash in the carcass. Perhaps, he thought, Butch died in a knife fight."
The book is separated into five sections: Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter Again, each containing multiple short stories set in these seasons. One of the tales I particularly enjoy is 'Sourdough' in which an acquaintance asks Dave to look after his sourdough starter, which has been in his family for generations, and the genealogy for which he has framed on his wall. As someone who managed to kill the sourdough starter a friend gave me, I feel Dave's pain and panic as things go terribly wrong.
'Home From The Vinyl Cafe' isn't the first collection of Dave and Morley tales, but it is perfectly fine to read it if you haven't experienced 'Vinyl Cafe' before- all the stories stand up well on their own, and the book also includes 'Holland', the story of how Dave and Morley met and married.
'Vinyl Cafe' is a bit like comfort food: familiar, feel-good, and heartwarming. It's also really funny. If you've never read- or listened to- it, do yourself a favour and look it up.
Here's Stuart McLean recounting Dave and Morley's romance: