As a skeptic whose withering ironies and the “tendency to deflate” were turned both against his own attempts to deny his roots, Canadian and Jewish, and the pretensions of cultural nationalism in general, Richler was an exuberant shape-shifter and trickster—a thorn in the funny-bone of Canadian nationalist aspirations. Faced with the question of his own place within the CanLit canon, he would have expelled cigar smoke in our general academic direction. His defiance of national identification typifies his early process of writerly self-construction as a contrarian satirist who enthusiastically set out to skewer images of the subsidized, artificially protected, and institutionally coddled Canadian artist. Not “compromised by the imprint of a Toronto publisher” in its initial printing, Richler’s earliest novel, The Acrobats, is particularly ferocious in targeting the weaknesses of the naïve Canadian artist, represented by the character of André Bennett. Indeed, the continuing importance of The Acrobats is emphasized in his 1970 essay, “Why I Write”: “I’m still lumbered with the characters and ideas, the social concerns I first attempted in The Acrobats. Every serious writer has, I think, one theme, many variations to play on it.”
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