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Spanish Fly [Paperback]

Will Ferguson
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
List Price: CDN$ 19.00
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Book Description

Sept. 9 2008 0143055143 978-0143055143

Raised by his father in the dying town of Paradise Flats, Jack McGreary has learned to live by his wits. The year is 1939. Drought has turned America’s heartland into a dust bowl, and the world is on the brink of war.

Jack's father wants him to head north to Canada to sign up in the fight against fascism. But when a pair of fast-talking swindlers named Virgil and Miss Rose blows through town, Jack falls in with them instead.

Together, they go on a crime spree across the Southwest, staging a series of inventive and often hilarious cons, while sexual tension between Jack and Miss Rose grows… Someone is being set up.

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Spanish Fly + Happiness: or Generica + Beyond Belfast
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You've got to hand it to author Will Ferguson --when he decides to stretch stylistically, he really stretches. With Spanish Fly, his second novel in a career highlighted by humorous non-fiction, Ferguson eschews his trademark Canadiana to explore the American heartland of the late 1930s--a dull, desolate place reeling from the after-effects of the Depression and Prohibition while facing down World War II.

Protagonist Jack McGreary is young man with more than his share of burdens to bear. His mom is dead, his dad is nuts, his girlfriend is apathetic and his hometown of Paradise Flats is one big, go-nowhere dustbowl of despair and poverty. So when dapper grifters Virgil and Miss Rose blow into town--scamming the local yokels with sleight-of-hand tricks and other deceits--Jack sees them as his ticket out. But what begins as a thrilling escape from the tedium of small-town life soon morphs into something more sinister. Ferguson knows how to set a scene--his descriptions of the "Negro" jazz halls Jack and his cohorts haunt are vivid and palpable. So too are his portraits of backwater towns. But Ferguson is also a sucker for clichés (hair like straw, tar-paper roofs et al). And some stuff just doesn't fly.

For example, Jack is portrayed as some kind of natural-born genius able to see through carnival scams, theological tenets and flaws in the human spirit with laser precision. An interesting angle maybe, but highly improbable. The dialog is also strained and larded with hoary banalities (does anyone really say "on account of" instead of "because?" And don't the Irish have the lock on referring to fathers as "Da?")

Ferguson succeeds in painting a striking picture of post-Depression-era America but passage to the end is bumpier than a spin in Virgil's jalopy. Coming from the author who slayed us with gems like "Manitoba - Gateway to Saskatchewan," it's a rather disappointing (albeit ambitious) ride. --Kim Hughes --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“An eminently readable novel… Like Robertson Davies, Will Ferguson has the gift of linkage, of letting unlikely novelistic strands interleave and thicken into a significant braid.” - The Globe and Mail

“A remarkable novel that is sure to become a modern-day classic…. Ferguson combines fact and fiction to produce a compelling and surprisingly humorous coming-of-age tale that will appeal to all readers…. Ferguson builds a tense climax by skilfully planting morsels of key information throughout the story. This leads to an exhilarating and unpredictable conclusion that will have readers guessing until the final page.” - Winnipeg Free Press

“Ferguson has written history and humour side by side many times, and this is the first time he has fused them together so successfully… It’s a pleasure to ride with our sort-of-heroes in their 1939 Nash Ambassador.” - Telegraph Journal

“Stunning…. Spanish Fly will be in high demand because of Ferguson’s name, but it should be in high demand because of his talent. Nuanced and enthralling, Spanish Fly is undoubtedly the best writing he has ever done.” - Quill & Quire Books of the Year review

“Ferguson is a novelist to be reckoned with…. This is a man who has found his storytelling voice, using the Great Depression as a backdrop for three grifters who are blowing through the American South one scam at a time. If it were up to me, I would have put this book on the Giller list.” - The Ottawa Citizen

“A remarkable work, steeped in history and arcane knowledge but rooted in the intimate timelessness of the human heart and soul. There are a few laughs, but this is a serious, and ultimately heart-rending, story. Spanish Fly is the real thing.” - Vancouver Sun

“A solid read… Ferguson shows a flair for historical detail and pop culture.” - Montreal Gazette

“Some of the most fascinating and interesting reading I’ve seen in a long time. Ferguson’s writing style flows smoothly…. In terms of drama, humour, pacing, imagination, research, vocabulary and the ability to express his ideas through his characters, Will Ferguson ranks up there with some of the best I’ve read.” - The Leader-Post

“Will Ferguson makes his protagonist’s character resemble the landscape—bleak and weathered, but carrying a promise or at least a hint of something better. One can read Spanish Fly and become immersed in its setting of dustbowl plains juxtaposed with the high-living shills who exploit it, but the most substantial immersion is in the exploration of attitudes and beliefs.” - The Edmonton Journal

“A wonderful ride.” - The Calgary Herald

“Ferguson’s offbeat view of the world is on display in this charming novel about con men…. Ferguson paints a vivid picture of the era, with its wild jazz clubs, pool hall sharks, failing banks, hapless farmers and easy marks. It’s funny, dark and entertaining.” - Toronto Sun

“Ferguson fills his pages with fascinating historical detail and lovingly described cons. His lengthy descriptions of scams are enthralling, funny and perhaps even educational.” - The Guardian

“This is a terrific book, lyrical and hilarious, bleak and funny, with a love of history balanced against a rippingly clever plot.” - The Telegraph UK

“An entertaining comic tale of American boy makes bad.” - The Daily Mail

“A heady mix of jitterbugging, swindling and double-double-crossing, set against the whisky-scented backdrop of America in 1939…. This is a richly atmospheric novel that seduces you—just as Jack seduces—with its reckless hedonism, feats of incredible ingenuity and fabulous costumes.” - New Statesman

“Ferguson’s comic picaresque is a delight, and the book would have worked just as well at twice the length.” - The Financial Times

“A terrific novel—complex but fun, philosophical but sharp, perceptive but ambiguous. The dialogue is razor-sharp and laced with dry wit, the endless cons are delivered with gusto and even the deeper, more thoughtful moments zing along in page-turning fashion…. As Ferguson builds to a crackling multilayered climax, the ideas of right and wrong, true and false are blurred, but you’re just happy to be along for the ride.” - The Sunday Herald

“Brilliantly entertaining.” - The Times

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rip Roaring Snake Oil Cons! Dec 19 2007
Spanish Fly is Will Ferguson's captivating and funny new novel, deserving the accolades of his debut novel, Generica a.k.a. Happiness.This new shrewd but silly tale weaves the desperation of the poverty of the Great Depression/Dust Bowl years in the American S.W. (W.F. explains his choice of location in his afterwords)with the story of young,bright,handsome,smalltown Jack McGreary finding his purpose in life. Jack tags along with experienced con artists Virgil Ray and Miss Rose to learn as Virgil says," When 'they' hand you their money willingly, it doesn't count as stealing." Jack's got the head for increasingly complex cons but does he have the heart for them? Herein lies the tension which makes the pages turn quickly to make this book such a satisfying read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Con Man Extraordinaire Dec 22 2011
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
I really enjoyed Will Ferguson's "Spanish Fly" as my first encounter with his writing. His literary style is a combination of rapier wit and sardonic humor that combines the wisdom of Will Rogers and the slapstick of vaudeville. The reader gets to follow a young man's quest for personal greatness during the Great Depression. Ferguson chooses the Great American Plains as his setting because they serve up all that is physically and socially challenging to the human desire to succeed. The novel is full of moments of excitement, allurement, despair, and fear as young Jack McGreary attempts to chart his course through life. Growing up in a little hay-seed of a Prairie town forces him to dream outside his own narrow existence. He starts out by opting for knowledge in books as his ticket to future success. Then he becomes infatuated with a local girl who works at the library only to realize that such aspirations will require money in order to happen. At the same time, nagging at him is a latent desire to go to war to fight tyranny. Essentially, Jack is a much conflicted adolescent who is about to fall into the clutches of Virgil and Rose, two very clever con artists who recognize and know how to exploit talent and desire, of which Jack has plenty. The narrative becomes a fast-paced Bonnie-and-Clyde hunt for the next victim as this trio moves from desolate town to desolate town. They have at their disposal a multitude of tricks - a few fascinating, most unbelievably stupid - by which to hoodwink their unsuspecting clients. Everybody in these desperate times, it seems, is willing to part with the little money they have in order to cash in on the promise of extraordinary wealth around the corner. Kind of reminds you of the times we're currently living in where greed is king. Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and entertaining April 17 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Quite different from the run-of-the-mill novels. Certainly recommend this book to those who think out of the box sometimes...and are not too conventional.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Will Ferguson July 2 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Everyone should read this book. This edition is printed in America but in England the title is The Hustle. One of his best books.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ferguson keeps getting better! June 17 2008
By Marc A. Laplante - Published on Amazon.com
i just stumbled upon Ferguson's early work "Happiness" in a second hand book shop, and really enjoyed it. It was witty, populated with characters that were suitably flawed and human, and a plot that kept you reading.
His latest is even better - with a wonderfully crafted backdrop of the late 1930's in the dust-bowl hard scramble U.S. Ferguson creates a foreshadowing of a dark cloud of a coming war, through small clips of events in Europe. (Ferguson is slightly off on some historical details in these snippets, but they still are used to good effect).
Essentially a story of a small town young man who meets with a pair of grifters and discovers much about life, human nature and himself.
An absolute pleasure to read!

Marc L.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning Dec 5 2013
By VG - Published on Amazon.com
Really, I was amazed when I read Spanish Fly. I had already read two of Ferguson's jokey books about Canadians, and while they were enjoyable, I had him down as a lightweight.

I was dead wrong. I was absolutely astonished by Spanish Fly. The intricacy of the plot, the fineness of the writing, the level of research that must have been required and the believable, nuanced, deftly-turned characters left me amazed. I had no idea Ferguson had this sort of thing in him. This is worthy of Richler or Atwood or Robertson Davies (which might actually make Ferguson shudder!). It's highly accomplished storytelling and writing. The scams pulled by the characters and the way that the characters play off of each other leads page by delicious page to the inevitable showdown.

I have not yet read 419, but if he won the Giller for that and not this, it must be something else again.
5.0 out of 5 stars Scamming at its best....old style Feb. 5 2013
By Douglas Goss - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Ferguson's novel is a masterpiece of storytelling well tied together from beginning to end and one that's hard to put down once you start. Fiction it may be but it is historically accurate and reflects the time of the depression and life in rural American in the days of Roosevelt and the ABC work plan he implemented during the Great Depression. Great characters depicted in the story and while the schemes of the con artists are a bit hard to follow by times it was well worth the read.
5.0 out of 5 stars Rabbitt April 23 2012
By Rabitt - Published on Amazon.com
Spanish fly is a well written book. A very good story.reminds me of el Doctorow. I wish it was available in ebooks for easier reading
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