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Review: In Canada, Mike Myers pens a love letter to his home and native land

Actor and comedian Mike Myers shows off his star on the Canadian Walk of Fame in Toronto in 2003.

FRANK GUNN/Canadian Press

Title
Canada
Author
Mike Myers
Genre
Autobiography
Publisher
Doubleday Canada
Pages
294
Price
$39.95
Year
2016

Mike Myers has become known as a celebrity uninterested in celebrity. In the past 10 years, he's appeared in only two movies (not counting voice work for Shrek) and he's rarely spoken to journalists.

Most profiles of Myers are filled out with interviews from surrogates, friends or family that Myers dispatches so he doesn't have to discuss his own life or work.

So what does Myers choose to reveal in his new memoir, Canada? Well, as he writes in the intro, it's not "strictly a memoir. This book is about my fifty-three-year relationship with Canada."

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It's a crazy-quilt of stories from Myers's life, padded by large glossy photos of Canadian icons (the CNE, The Friendly Giant, Kraft Dinner) and Wikipedia-quality summaries of important moments from modern Canadian history. The transitions between the personal and the informative are often haphazard.

One line, Myers will make a banal observation like, "OHIP isn't a perfect system, but in a world of nOHIP, OHIP looks pretty good." A few paragraphs later, he'll tell the story of throwing urine at French-Canadian separatists, or he'll make a gross observation about the mother of a childhood friend who was "a MILF … even though she was well past the 'best before date.'" Then he'll describe the Canadarm or give a short history of the 1976 Olympics.

It's clear that Myers earnestly, unashamedly loves Canada, and sees the country as central to his identity, even though he's lived in the U.S. for the past 33 years.

But in his attempt to lock down the slippery notion of "Canadian identity," Myers reinforces some pretty gnarly stereotypes.

He writes, "Canada will tend to devalue even the most gifted person's work, as if [their] deviant behaviour makes their work an ill-gotten gain."

Canadian artists, he notes, look elsewhere for validation. Did he somehow miss out on the success of Drake, Arcade Fire and Tatiana Maslany, all of whom still work and (partly) live in Canada?

Later, he helpfully reminds us that, "A Newfie is someone from Newfoundland" (many people consider that word hurtful, Mike), Canadian history is boring (I think you're reading the wrong history books, Mike), and in "Old Canadian dialect," masturbation is known as "pulling-the-goalie" (Mike, please don't).

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When Myers gets to stories about his famous contemporaries, it often feels like there are pages missing. Describing a childhood film shoot with Gilda Ratner, he writes, "I, like every other human being who met her, fell in love with Gilda. And on the last day of the shoot, we said our goodbyes in the parking lot. I cried like a baby."

Wait, how did he fall in love with her? What happened, specifically? If you're going to write a book about fabulous celebrities you've met, you need to include more detail than the fact you simply met them.

Later, Myers describes meeting his high school acquaintance David Furnish at a Hollywood party, after Furnish had partnered up with Elton John. "I bet you didn't know I was gay!" says Furnish. That's the whole anecdote.

Thankfully, Myers's stories about Phil Hartman and Lorne Michaels are much more vivid and revealing.

Late in the book, Myers tries to draw a parallel between changes in the Canadian character and his own slow divorce from the country.

He stopped visiting with much frequency after his father died from Alzheimer's disease, and Myers describes the heartbreaking process of walking through Toronto and finding every familiar landmark invoking a sad memory.

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Myers sees his own exile as running parallel to a decline in Canadian well-being, a time where everything good went to shit. The Expos moved to Washington, there was a Quebec referendum, Nathan Cirillo was killed by a terrorist on Parliament Hill and BlackBerry collapsed.

While these are, indeed, things that happened while Myers was living in the United States, they are random data points, marshalled in support of an unclear thesis about Canada and its inability to become the Next Great Society.

The final chapter is a long mash note to Justin Trudeau, a politician Myers cites for giving Canada "a mission statement and the necessary leadership."

It's a mistake to judge prime ministers' legacies until they've left office, and it's pure folly to make that judgement one year into their mandates. But no greater folly than writing a book without a well-considered structure.

Chris Berube is a Canadian writer who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. His work has appeared in Slate, the CBC and The Walrus.

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