The Architects are Here

Michael Winter may yet be sued by the Ontario Association of Architects or the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada or some other group who claims as proprietary the use of the word “architect.” After all, the title of his novel The Architects are Here could confuse the public, who might think, upon reading his book, that what architects do is kill their brothers.

In fact, generally this is not the case.

Architects in most of North America have a “titles act” of one kind or another, not to mention a “practice act.” The former limits those who are permitted to call themselves architects to individuals who have achieved specific criteria; the latter limits those who would say they are practicing architecture to those who have been qualified as architects. The limitation of these strictures has always been the question of what’s reasonable–thus a carpenter or real estate agent will be sued if they claim the title unlawfully, but the profession of computer systems “architecture” has usurped the word so thoroughly that most of the time a classified ad for an architect these days will turn out to have no use for for those of us who’ve taken and passed the NCARB exams.

In fact the “architects” of the title of Winter’s book come from a book by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, known as Suetonius. In a Robert Graves translation of the work, called The Twelve Caesars, the phrase “the architects are here” serves as the code to indicate the assassins are in place:

Otho excused himself to the emperor, saying he had to view a house that was for sale; then slipped out of the Palace by a back door and hurried to the rendez-vous.

Or as Winter puts it, “The architects are here. It was a phrase that summed up his experience with his brother, that bad times were lurking.”

We just read Winter’s novel, and felt deeply unsettled by it. Is the story a memoir? It concerns a writer from Newfoundland named Gabriel English whose previous work was about an American artist who settled for a time on the island. Surely this writer is Winter himself, a Newfoundlander whose previous novel, The Big Why, concerned the American artist Rockwell Kent (Kent, born in Tarrytown New York, famously settled for a time in Brigus Newfoundland. He also studied architecture at Columbia University).

Rockwell Kent

Rockwell Kent

Previous works by Winter that centre on the same main character are billed as “fictional memoirs.” Nice work, if you can get it:

Publisher’s note: This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Ah yes, the catch-all: “or are used fictitiously.” We like it. We like it a lot.

So many things in this novel resonate after our first reading, and draw us back. It could be the first novel in a while (since Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces in fact) that we might be tempted to re-read. We like Winter’s notion of “Wyoming,” a term that seems to relate to his “Big Why” novel, but which in any case is a play on the dreamy questioning of the protagonist: his tendency to ask “Why,” and exclaim “Oh” on reaching a conclusion. We do a lot of Wyoming ourselves (only, being from Montana, we hesitate to call it that).

We’ve been thinking a lot about architecture lately, which no doubt explains our urge to read Winter’s book. After all, we are the architects. The architects, in fact, are here. We have a license from the state of New York, a license achieved after a hell of a lot of pain and hard work, which in the province of Ontario has no meaning or value at all. The situation is simple, according to the Ontario Association registrar: the individual who signed the interjurisdictional agreement between New York and Ontario (as well as with most other signatory jurisdictions across North America) was discovered, about a year and a half ago, to have no signing authority. All agreements were rendered null and void, and no cross-border recognition exists from that time to this.

Who pays? Us, that’s who. Which only makes sense, right?

And please do not ask us about our brother.

We might as well be writers, for all the good our license does us.

If only we could write as well as Winter. That’s the rub.

Our own little “Wyoming:” how did Winter get so good? Was it his copy editor, Shaun Oakey, who must be credited? After all, it’s Shaun who, at Winter’s insistence, left the apostrophes off so many words. To Shaun then we give our praise: Shaun, you did a good job. We only found one typo in the whole book, on page 149: you allow “hapse” when we feel sure you mean “hasp” (Hackapik, in the same sentence, is correctly spelled).

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