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October 24, 2002 neale McDevitt becomes NDG bard with story collection



Neale McDevitt

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

by Matthew Walls

NDG is not a neighbourhood likely to breed urbane poets. Urban, yes, but hardly urbane.
Neale McDevitt, a graduate of Concordia in English, has been an NDG resident for all his 39 years. His first collection of short stories, One Day Even Trevi Will Crumble, is set in the NDG neighbourhoods he has known, and its mixture of the profane and the poetic is what has kept him there.

As the book’s main character, McVie, says in one story, “NDG love isn’t high art or idyllic devotion. It’s visceral and sad and, in many ways, it’s based purely on white-knuckled survival.”
That could be said just as easily about McDevitt’s own efforts to get published.

First written as a novel three years ago, One Day Even Trevi Will Crumble was the work of several years.

He turned the chapters into stories and submitted some of them in his application to Concordia’s creative writing program in 2001. When he was turned down, he reworked them and resubmitted them in 2002, but again he was unsuccessful.

Then, he says, speaking much like McVie, “he busted his ass to polish these stories and show those pricks.” It worked. Since its publication last November, McDevitt’s short-story collection has had favourable reviews in The Gazette and Hour.

Finding a voice as a writer was one of the toughest battles of his life. “I’d never been able to find a voice that was comfortable. Then I read Bukowski and it was really a moment of true epiphany: You can be gritty and beautiful.”

Like Charles Bukowski, McDevitt writes about those on the margins — homeless people, hookers, taxi drivers and bikers. Most of the stories are told in the first-person, narrated by a character who is not exactly McDevitt, but who shares a lot of his sentiments and interests.

McDevitt himself is no stranger to the rough-and-tumble. He’s been a regular at his local YMCA since childhood, where he trained successfully enough to become the Pan-Am weightlifting champion in 1985 and a member of Canada’s rugby team at the 1986 Commonwealth Games.
“I still maintain to this day that I’m the only writer who could lift 400 pounds,” he said.

McVie’s grandfather tells him early in life that “the world is mean as hell, boy. You’d better buckle up.”

He doesn’t always manage to, but he never gives up on his search for that state of grace. It was something that Hemingway sought too, but for McVie, “Hemingway can have the blatant gush and roar of the bullfights, I’ll take Venice and its slow descent into the sea.”

Writing does not yet pay his bills, so McDevitt has had to work at other jobs, one of them at Chapter’s bookstore.

Having now put ‘Autographed by author’ stickers on his own books, he jokes that he needs one more appropriate to his case: ‘Shelved by author.’

Even Trevi Will Crumble is published by Exile Editions, of Toronto.