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literature

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Findley, Timothy (1930-2002)  
 
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Findley's third novel, The Wars (1977), proved to be his breakthrough work, especially in Canada, where it won the Governor General's Award. The novel, set during World War I, finds its protagonist in a situation that Findley would revisit in other books--trying to do what is moral and sane in a situation that has clearly spun out of control. A film version, directed by Robin Phillips, appeared in 1983.

Findley hoped that his next novel, Famous Last Words (1981), a surrealist tale dealing with the rise of fascism in Europe and featuring such historical figures as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Charles Lindbergh, might be "the novel to make [his] name in the U.S." But, as he stated in a 1994 interview, although "the reviews were wonderful," his publisher, Seymour Lawrence--"a wonderful man, maddening at times, but a great character"--was "too preoccupied with personal troubles" to promote the book properly.

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Findley's subsequent novel, Not Wanted on This Voyage (1984), is a dark and complex retelling of the biblical story of Noah. War once again plays a role in the work as those consigned to the lower portions of the ark fight the tyranny of the patriarchal authority figures. Among those forced below deck is a character who can be read as gay, Noah's son Ham, who fails to conform to the masculine ideal by eschewing violence. With him is the fallen angel Lucy, who is on an ultimately unsuccessful quest to find a "promised land" where difference does not bring discrimination and oppression.

Not Wanted on This Voyage earned Findley a Canadian Authors Association award for fiction in 1985. Four years later he was honored with an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for The Telling of Lies: A Mystery (published in Canada in 1986 and in the United States in 1988).

The Telling of Lies opens with the murder of a formidable pharmaceutical tycoon who owes his wealth to the manufacture of tranquilizers. The elderly woman who finds him dead at a charming Maine hotel is drawn into solving the crime, which embroils her in a world of CIA operations, kidnappings, and other fearsome situations. The novel reveals Findley's mastery of the murder-mystery genre, but it explores many of the same themes present in his more conventional works, especially the relationship between the powerful and the powerless, the nature of truth, and the quest to find the right moral path in the midst of chaos.

In his darkest novel, Headhunter (1994), which Findley described as Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness set in Rosedale," he offers a dystopic vision of a future Toronto where both AIDS and a bird-borne disease called sturnusemia are exacting heavy tolls. Power is again vested in a patriarchy, including a secret organization, the Club of Men, that recruits teen-aged boys for sexual purposes. Opposing the powerful are two women, deemed insane by others, who are, like Lucy, searching for a way out of the darkness into a world of light and love.

The issues of questioning--indeed defying--authority and of trying to find sanity, hope, and love in a far from perfect world recur in Findley's later novels, The Piano Man's Daughter (1995), You Went Away (1996), Pilgrim (1999), and Spadework (2002), as well as in four collections of short stories that appeared between 1979 and 1997. Although reviews of these works were mixed, he gained a solid and enthusiastic readership, particularly in Canada, where academics have devoted more attention to his writings than have their U.S. counterparts.

Findley also authored seven plays, including an adaptation of The Piano Man's Daughter (1995). His best-known drama is Elizabeth Rex, which premiered at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in 2000. The story takes place on the day before the beheading of Queen Elizabeth's lover, the Earl of Essex. After watching a performance by Shakespeare's acting company, the queen adjourns to the castle barn with the playwright and several actors to pass the night in conversation in order to distract herself from Essex's impending fate. Elizabeth Rex played to sold-out houses for its entire run and earned Findley a Governor General's Award for drama.

Another play, The Stillborn Lover (1993), set at the height of the Cold War, centers on the dilemma of an ambassador who reveals to his family that he is gay. The play has received several productions, including a 2003 Berkshire Repertory Theater mounting that featured Richard Chamberlain.

During a stay at the house in Provence in early spring 2002, Findley fell, fracturing his pelvis. In the ensuing weeks he suffered infection, paralysis, and cardiac problems. Whitehead remained at his side throughout the terrible ordeal. Findley died on June 20, 2002.

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