Spat the Dummy
By Ed Macdonald

Book excerpt

  At forty, the iconoclastic Spat Ryan is recently divorced, unemployed and frequently intoxicated. Inspired by the cliché “We’re only as sick as our secrets”, he decides to reveal himself a piece at a time for the “cure”. A deeply skeptical outsider, stunted by many adolescent appetites, he survived his often violent, terrifying past by keeping his darkest truths out of mind. A wholly unpopular student, he remained invisible until he was christened “Big Dummy” by a nun teaching at his junior high. The name Spat the Dummy and an unearned bad reputation, followed him to the end of his miserable school years .

   Raised in Montreal by a bag man for the Irish mob, Spat has fictionalized or ignored chunks of his life too painful to contemplate. When he meets an old friend of his father’s in a bar on the Main, they develop a camaraderie built on memories of the man they both revered.  During a drinking session with his father’s old friend, it is revealed that she, too, has been keeping the same secret that ultimately shaped Spat’s tumultuous life. Her reaction to the recollection ends their friendship and begins his quest to understand how he became himself.

   Unready, but willing to face his past, Spat visits his father’s surviving brother. For the first time, Spat asks his troubled Uncle Hank about his mother - the woman who abandoned Spat when he was four years old. Learning that she has been a resident of Australia for more than thirty years, Spat plans his trip to meet her. Before beginning his journey, Spat learns that his ex-wife, the acerbic and embittered Patty, is pregnant. She tells him that he may or may not be the father. Their combative relationship begins again as Spat suspects that he is the father and wants, deeply, to protect his child from the influence of his ex-wife’s conservative family.

   In Australia, Spat has an uneasy reunion with his mother, Ann. A controversial champion of Aboriginal rights, she carried the same stone on her back as the other witnesses to the biggest secret. Eventually, they make peace with each other and Spat is introduced to his bed-ridden, physically challenged brother. Though he knows nothing about them, all of his biases keep Spat from knowing his foreign relations. While he is in Australia, Spat’s uncle Hank commits suicide. This has an enormous effect on Ann. After a series of unsettling encounters with his newly discovered family and his own memories, Spat decides that his mission has been a failure and decides to return to Canada.

   Drunk and carousing with a methamphetamine addict called Dave, Spat finds himself in an isolated Aussie biker bar. Waking up under a table, Spat is refused an eye-opener by the brute bartender and is mocked by the bartender’s friend.  Staggering out, he hears one of them use the phrase “Spat the Dummy”. Amazed and furious, he confronts and then throws a punch at the man in front of the bar. Spat suffers an extreme pummeling at the hands of the locals. He wakes in the middle of nowhere, broken and cooking in the sun.

   While he recovers in his brother’s room, Spat forms a bond with his new family. When he reveals a startling truth to his brother, though, his mother is furious and tells him to leave. Returning to Canada, Spat is unable to shake the feeling that the world has changed irrevocably.

   As part of his “redemption scam”, Spat begins attending an AA meeting frequented by a friend of Patty’s in the hopes that word will get back to his ex about his sobriety. Although she doesn’t buy it, Patty’s own unhappiness causes her to make peace with Spat. Having inherited his uncle’s house, Spat and Patty begin living together, waiting for the arrival of their child. What follows changes both of their lives and forces Spat Ryan to do something illegal, cruel and necessary.