Once Upon a Time in West Toronto


a novel by Terri Favro

Print: 978-177133-417-4 – $22.95
ePUB: 978-177133-418-1 – $11.99
PDF: 978-177133-420-4 – $11.99

248 Pages
September 15, 2017

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A gritty tragi-comic fairy tale of sexual obsession and longing, based in equal parts on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone, Once Upon A Time In West Toronto is the story of outsiders reinventing themselves in Toronto’s immigrant neighbourhoods from the 1970s to the present. It follows the adventures of Ida, an Italian proxy bride who came to Canada married a man she’d never met,, only to run off with his son; her lover, the brilliant ditch digger, Marcello; Bum Bum, a virtuous thief; and various hustlers, forgers and whores. A companion book to Terri Favro’s award-winning novella, The Proxy Bride, the book uses historical events in Italy and Canada to create a fast-paced and entertaining read that is both heartrending and hilarious.

“A sinewy and sensuous modern tale complete with compelling characters—a few bad guys and several lost souls—a wonderful addition to the stories about Italian Canadians and the trials of immigration. Favro puts her writing gifts to great use here, holding up a mirror to the troublesome past and shining a light on the difficult truths with sharply skilled prose.”

—Eufemia Fantetti, author of A Recipe For Disaster & Other Unlikely Tales of Love

“In Once Upon a Time in West Toronto, Terri Favro deftly weaves together multiple spellbinding narratives over the span of six decades, expertly covering the full spectrum of human experience from love and revenge, to loyalty, honour and forgiveness. Set during Toronto’s coming of age – against the political backdrop of the rise of feminism and the immigrant experience – Once Upon a Time in West Torontois a novel filled with wry humour, unflinching honesty and unforgettable characters. Terri Favro is a wonderful story teller who knows how to wring every last drop of emotion from each sentence. Filled with action and suspense, as well as heartbreak and insight, this novel is a page-turning delight.”

—Bianca Marais, author of Hum If You Don’t Know The Words

“Ida and Marcello must run away from church, family, and the hoodlums that threaten their bodies and souls. Can they reinvent themselves and escape the bleakness of their respective pasts? Once Upon a Time in West Toronto is a hip, original take on the immigrant story, as well as a satisfying love story, a well told tale, and a slice of reality. Terri Favro’s witty, supple prose is a discovery and a delight.”

—Caterina Edwards, author of The Sicilian Wife

Once Upon A Time in West Toronto is a story about the power of family; those we are born into and those we make. It is also a story about the power of place; the land we come from and the country we call home. But above all, it is a story about the irresistible, unrelenting, often treacherous and ultimately transformative power of love. It is one of those rare novels that manage to be simultaneously epic and intimate, romantic and violent, tragic and hopeful.”

—Ian French (IF The Poet), Canadian Individual Poetry Slam Championship Winner and World Cup of Slam Poetry Finalist

“An utterly captivating and beautiful book. Ida, Marcello and Bum Bum’s lives overlap, interconnect and tangle in a way that will have you exclaiming in delight and weeping in sorrow. Few writers capture the complex Catholic experience as masterfully as Terri Favro who paints a poignant picture of the complicated clash of religion and love. Mapping lives from 1969 to 2013, the story brings to life the women’s rights movement of the ’70’s and the pain brought about by the AIDS in the 80’s. The story is also a love story to Toronto’s West End, and it is so wonderfully written that you can taste the Asagio cheese and smell the freshly ground espressos. Favro’s writing is also so touching and funny that you will find yourself smiling at the originality of simile perfection and graceful metaphor. This book is like the perfect snow globe of so many lives; lives we have lived, lives we are living, or might have lived. Tragedy meets the redemption of the human spirit and, as we move from Venice to Shipman’s Corner, from love to loss and back to love, we realize that, with all its ugliness and hardship, the world truly is a beautiful and mysterious place.”

—Lisa de Nikolits, author of No Fury Like That

“Written like interlinked stories in a collection, Terri Favro’s novel Once Upon a Time in West Toronto is a brilliant follow-up to her award-winning novella The Proxy Bride. This novel dives into the lives of the endearing Ida, Marcello and Bum Bum and vividly reveals their experiences of trying to redefine themselves from painful pasts to hopeful futures. Moments of joy and love collide with sadness and tragedy. With insight and boldness, Favro evokes the Italian experience from confessional boxes to the emotions accompanying new immigrants and the longing to move forward even when familial secrets and betrayals try to unravel new lives. Favro explores the themes of sexual desire, women’s solidarity, and family obligation and weaves the reader through mystical and hypnotic passages. Honest, moving and gutsy, Favro’s dazzling novel drifts between flashbacks and compelling present scenes, providing deep empathy for the unforgettable characters. Favro’s craft and skill at storytelling shape Once Upon a Time in West Toronto into an engaging novel.”

—Sonia Saikaley, author of A Samurai’s Pink House

Terri Favro is the author of novels Once Upon A Time in West Toronto (Inannaand Sputnik’s Children (ECW); a novella, The Proxy Bride, winner of the Ken Klonsky-Quattro Books Novella Award; and an upcoming non-fiction book, Generation Robot: A Century of Science Fiction, Fact and Speculation due out in February 2018 from Skyhorse Publishing, New York. Terri is also co-creator of the “Bella” graphic novel series (Grey Borders Books). A CBC Literary Prize finalist, Terri’s essays and short fiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including the Humber Literary Review, Geist, Prism, and Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction. Terri blogs at terrifavro.ca

Ida crouches in the field, paring knife in one hand, battered metal bowl in the other. Resting her elbows on the knees of her sagging peddle pushers, she digs around the base of the plant, yanking the stem and roots out of the ground; it’s easier to take the whole weed and clean it later, even though all she needs are the leaves. Traffic flies overhead, thickening the air with exhaust fumes and the sounds of brakes and engines blurring into car radios: Tie a yellow ribbon Angie you’re so ten-fifty CHUM rainy night in Georgia scorcher again today in the golden horseshoe war what is it good for absolutely nothing a thousand yellow ribbons round the old oak tree.

Lily crouches next to her. She’s wearing two different tennis shoes, one blue, one pink. Only the pink shoe has laces.

“Why are you digging up the dandelions?” Lily asks, picking a scab off one knee.

“I make an insalata for my husband to eat.”

Ida stumbles over huz-BAND, the consonants grinding against each other like hard cheese on a rasp. Like many English words, she finds husband a little harsh. It could use a few more vowels. Hus-a-band. Husa-banda. My husabanda Marcello.

She also stumbles over husband because it’s a bald-faced lie — what Marcello calls ‘a smokescreen’ – to cover up the fact that she has another husband — well, not another, she can only have one: Marcello’s father, Senior. Unless the old man grants her an annulment or dies, Marcello can never be her husabanda, a mildly incestuous situation that is scandalous even by the slackening moral standards of 1974.

 Inamorato is the correct word for what Marcello is to Ida, but makes him sound like a dashing Renaissance prince rather than a melancholic muscle-bound ditch digger who spends most of his time down manholes. He reminds her of a line from a favourite old film, Mezzogiorno di Fuoco — in English, High Noon:

     You’re a good-looking boy: you’ve big, broad shoulders. But it takes more than big, broad shoulders to make a man.

2 reviews for Once Upon a Time in West Toronto

  1. inannaadmin

    Women face life-altering challenges in these new reads
    Once Upon a Time in West Toronto by Terri Favro
    reviewed by Sarah Murdoch
    Toronto Star – January 12, 2018

    We first met Ida and Marcello in Terri Favro’s 2012 novella, The Proxy Bride, in which Ida arrives from Italy as the bride of an old and not particularly law-abiding candy-store owner. Ida confounds expectations by falling in love with Marcello, the groom’s teenage son. Here’s how the publicity bumpf describes this sequel: “A gritty tragicomic fairy tale of sexual obsession and longing, based in equal parts on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone.” Favro is a lovely writer, a strong storyteller and has her fingers on the pulse of Toronto’s Italian community over six decades.

  2. inannaadmin

    Once Upon a Time in West Toronto by Terri Favro
    reviewed by The Miramichi Reader – September 29, 2017

    In 2012 Terri Favro’s novella The Proxy Bride (Quattro Books) won the Ken Klonsky Quattro Novella Award. Fellow Inanna author Lisa de Nikolits said of The Proxy Bride: “A beautiful snapshot of a time past and present: a vignette of small town Niagara, home to passionate Italians, their lives portrayed lovingly with sensual prose and operatic lyrical descriptions.”

    Once Upon a Time in West Toronto (2017, Inanna Publications) is the sequel to The Proxy Bride, but it is not required reading in order to understand Once Upon a Time in West Toronto. I certainly didn’t and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    First, a brief synopsis from the book’s preface:

    The adventures of Ida, a liberated proxy bride, her lover, Marcello, a ditch digger; Bum Bum, a virtuous thief; and assorted Villans, Hustlers, and Whores.

    The story opens in West Toronto in 1974, the location: the Seahorse Motor Court and Housekeeping Cabins on Lakeshore Blvd. Here, Ida and Marcello are holed up, on the run from Marcello’s father (Marcello Senior) and his henchmen, for his son Marcello (Junior) has run off with his wife (and therefore Marcello’s stepmother). As you can see, it’s complicated. Ida has agreed to marry Marcello Senior so she can escape her life in Italy and get to the New World (she thinks Marcello Senior is a rich widower with a ranch and Marcello Junior is his little boy).

    “Unless the old man grants her an annulment or dies, Marcello can never be her “husabanda”, a mildly incestuous situation that is scandalous even by the slackening moral standards of 1974. Inamorato is the correct word for what Marcello is to Ida, but makes him sound like a dashing Renaissance prince rather than a melancholic muscle-bound ditch digger who spends most of his time down manholes.”

    The second storyline involves Bum Bum (whose real name is Pasquale) escaping his life in the Niagra region (there is a connection to Marcello and Ida as well) when, hitchhiking, he gets picked up by Claire, a young woman driving a stolen Corvair who is escaping life in the neighbourhood of Love Canal in Niagra Falls, New York.

    “Like a hero from an Isaac Asimov novel, Bum Bum must get Claire to a safe haven on a star cluster far, far away – Alpha Centauri, if possible, Toronto, if not.”

    They all eventually end up in Toronto (unbeknownst to one another) but soon their paths cross as circumstances begin to draw them together in order to survive and escape Senior, the law and their own past demons.

    It is challenging to express just how skilfully Ms Favro has spun this story, keeping all the prime characters and places in perfect balance so that Once Upon a Time in West Toronto has a genuine holistic feel to it, complete in itself. There’s nothing that leaves you feeling that parts of the whole are left suspended in the air, forgotten about.

    Part opera buffa and part opera seria, Once Upon a Time in West Toronto contains smiles and sadness, triumphs and tragedies as Ms Favro’s heroes (flawed, but very likeable) carve out a life in Toronto in the simpler times of the 1970’s. A five-star effort and a recommended read.

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