Down to This
Squalor and Splendour in a Big-City Shantytown
By Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall
(Vintage Canada, Paperback, 9780679312284, 496pp.)
Publication Date: March 8, 2005
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For some young men, climbing Everest or sailing solo into polar seas isn’t the biggest risk in the world. Instead it is venturing alone into the deepest urban jungle, where human nature is the dangerous, incomprehensible and sometimes wildly uplifting force that tests not only your ability to survive but also your own humanity.
One cold November day, Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall heads out on just such a quest. He packs up a new tent, some clothes, his notebooks and a pen and goes to live in Tent City, twenty-seven lawless acres where the largest hobo town on the continent squats in the scandalized shadow of Canada’s largest city. The rules he sets for himself are simple: no access to money, family or friends, except what he can find from that day on. He’ll do whatever people in Tent City do to get by, be whatever bum, wino, beggar, hustler, criminal, junkie or con man he chooses to be on any given day.
When he arrives, he finds a dump full of the castaways of the last millennium, human and otherwise. On the edge of the world, yet somehow smack in the middle of it all, fugitives, drug addicts, prostitutes, dealers and ex-cons have created an anarchic society, where the rules are made up nightly and your life depends on knowing them. Not only does Bishop-Stall manage to survive until the bulldozers come, but against all odds his own heart and spirit slowly mend. An astonishing account of birth, suicide, brawls, binges, tears, crazed laughter, good and bad intentions, fiendish charity and the sudden eloquence and generosity of broken souls, Down to This is Bishop-Stall’s iridescent love song to a lost city like no other.
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall has picked olives in Spain, painted villas in Italy and hopped freight trains in Arizona. His non-fiction has appeared in Saturday Night, the National Post and The Globe and Mail. The film rights for Down to This have been optioned by Shaftesbury Films.
“Brilliant writing, verging on the poetic.”
—The Globe and Mail
“Finely written and bitterly honest … a moving depiction of the contradictions embedded in our common humanity.”
“Some writers go to great lengths to write a book. They climb Mount Everest, follow armies into war zones, go undercover with professional sports teams, or travel around the world on a motorbike, unicycle or some other type of contraption. Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall has more guts than any of those writers.”
“Raw…. a book that should be required reading for all law-and-order community reform crusaders, as Roméo Dallaire’s Shake Hands with the Devil should be for all armchair global warriors.”
“A book of warm, incisive, commited reportage. It’s inspiring for anyone who believes in non-fiction.”
—Quill & Quire
“Refreshingly free of political or sociological theorizing … Creates a cumulative portrait of the punishing lifestyle."
“Impossible not to be transfixed … Bishop-Stall is deep inside his story and doesn’t preach or get mired in clichés.”
—The Vancouver Sun
“A truly amazing book, wonderfully written. All the time I was reading, I was either choked up or grinning from ear to ear. When I wasn't either choked up or grinning, I was weeping or laughing out loud. This is a stunning debut.”
—Paul Quarrington, author of Whale Music, The Spirit Cabinet and Galveston
“After a gonzo plunge into homelessness, Zoodles and booze, Bishop-Stall surfaces with a terrific book, evocative of the writing of Paul Bowles and Hunter S. Thompson. A surprising new talent who writes with verve, wit and insight about life on the urban margins.”
—Patricia Pearson, Maclean’s columnist and author of Playing House
“Superb writing, reporting, and story-telling make Down to This one long wild joy to read. It is a hilarious, heartbreaking, relentlessly honest celebration of survival. It may change you a little.”
—Ernest Hillen, author of The Way of a Boy