• Review
By – August 26, 2019

Howard Akler’s Splitsville is a suc­cinct nov­el that offers a glimpse into one of the largest civic bat­tles in Toronto’s his­to­ry. In short pas­sages, Splitsville explores the rela­tion­ship of Hal Sachs and Lily Klein, the own­er of a book­store and a high school civics teacher respec­tive­ly; each of whom work to stop the erec­tion of the Spad­i­na Express­way, a six-lane high­way which was going to divide Toron­to so that com­muters would have had eas­i­er access to down­town. In doing so, they fall in love, fall out of love, and argue over what it means to be an engaged citizen.

Akler gives two pri­ma­ry per­spec­tives of the city: one from 1975 with Klein and Sachs dur­ing the time when the Express­way was being planned, and one from the present with Sachs’ nephew, Aitch, who looks to dis­cov­er the inti­ma­cies of Sachs’ life. Through the lat­ter half of the nov­el, Aitch bikes around the city, giv­ing the read­er placid images of present-day Toron­to. These pas­sages are writ­ten in brief, con­crete prose, and they have an ambi­ent grace, which is depict­ed in sharp turns and pass­ing images: You ride on: smooching teenagers in a par­kette, KFC stink. You speed away from eleven herbs and spices, up a pot­holed laneway with Day-Glo graf­fi­ti on every sec­ond garage door.” Here, the city is a blur. It is alive, in motion, and yet it only acts as a back­drop to Aitch’s actions. Con­trast­ed with Sachs and Lily’s pas­sages, Splitsville shows how the defin­ing event of a city can be for­got­ten, and that what was so vehe­ment­ly fought for can become so worn into the fab­ric of day-to-day life that it becomes invisible.

The focus on Toron­to, how­ev­er, at times took the focus off Splitsvilles char­ac­ters. Klein and Sachs are well-drawn, but Aitch is rel­a­tive­ly sta­t­ic. His bik­ing through the city, his inves­ti­ga­tion into Sachs’ life, and his nerves about becom­ing a new par­ent are com­pelling, but his wants and fears felt unexplored.

Splitsville is writ­ten in spare pas­sages that cut from one per­spec­tive to anoth­er, from one time to anoth­er. Although these pas­sages don’t have an obvi­ous log­ic to them, they pro­pel the nar­ra­tive for­ward and the errat­ic jumps in time cre­ate pock­ets of ten­sion that fur­ther engage the reader.

Splitsville is an inter­est­ing look into the intri­ca­cies of a grass­roots move­ment and Toronto’s history.

Ben­jamin Selesnick lives and writes in New Jer­sey. His writ­ing has appeared in decomP, Lunch Tick­et, San­ta Fe Writ­ers’ Project Quar­ter­ly, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. He holds an MFA in fic­tion from Rutgers-Newark.

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