Friday, November 21, 2014

All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman

This book is just truly lovely, and I adored it. It is not the kind of thing that is right for everyone, certainly, but I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish, and it would easily make the list of books I have read for this blog that I would recommend, without question.

The story is a perfect blend of heartfelt and whimsical. It opens with Tom, our narrator, about to board a plane with his superhero wife, The Perfectionist. Tom is invisible to The Perfectionist, and has been since their wedding, when The Perfectionist was hypnotized by a jealous ex-boyfriend into believing that he (Tom) was invisible. Tom has until the wheels of the plane touch down in Vancouver to convince The Perfectionist that she can see him - if he can't, then she will start a new life and leave him behind forever.

The story is told mainly in flashbacks, around the development of Tom and The Perfectionist's relationship, their first date, first kiss, and how Tom found himself with exclusively superhero friends. The superheroes in this book have the kinds of superpowers that are just things some people do - The Perfectionist, for example, is just a perfectionist. Her jealous ex, Hypno, is actually just a very handsome and charismatic person who can only make people do things they are willing to do anyway. Many of the superpowers are just symptoms of common mental illnesses.

The interpretation I went with was that Tom does not think of himself as particularly distinctive or special, and the way he identifies others is through one defining characteristic. Who hasn't described their partner's friend as "the one who is always projecting" or "the one with the hypnotic eyes" etc. Throughout the book other superheroes are described, and they are all interesting and strange (but also strangely normal). None of the superheroes consider themselves to be villains, but many of them consider someone else to be one.

I loved this slightly strange, magical way of looking at people. I think it works particularly well on the level of Tom coming into a group of friends through his partner. The story's underlying message is, I believe, about relationships - and particularly about what love is to a perfectionist; love that is often messy and never perfect, but which is often the missing ingredient in a perfect day, or life. The last page of what had been, to that point, a light and whimsical read, had me unexpectedly choked up on the streetcar. The story may be disguised in layers of whimsy and magical realism, but it does have something very powerful to say about love and relationships.\

I loved this book. It was a quick, engaging, funny, and unexpectedly moving read. I highly recommend it.

Five CN Towers out of five.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Waiting for Ricky Tantrum by Jules Lewis

Rarely do I read a book that feels too short, but this book is one. The story is about Jim, our all-but-silent narrator, a boy growing up in Toronto and tagging along with his much more assertive friends Oleg, Charlie, and Melvyn. At 175 pages it is a quick read, and woefully short.

Jim doesn't say much - mostly "What?" and "Oh." As the first person narrator he is a perfect observer, almost completely objective for the purposes of the story, as we don't really get any insight into his thoughts. Just what he says and does, which isn't much.

The novel is a collection of barely-strung-together incidents in Jim's life, mostly dominated by his larger-than-life friend Charlie, who plays video strip poker at the arcade, talks constantly about girls and sex, mouths off to adults, and is just the kind of shit that other twelve-year-old boys would find awesome. Oleg, Jim's best friend for many years, is less compelling but still has interesting moments, such as when he attempts to beat up his older brother Yuri. Reading the book as an adult, it is clear that both of these boys are terrible, terrible influences on Jim. However, no one in Jim's household seems to take an interest.

Toronto is not overly prominent but provides a recognizable backdrop for some of the scenes, in a comforting sort of way. And like most Toronto fiction, the narrative is heavily populated with immigrants and their stories.

I liked the book. The characters especially are boldly drawn and just hilarious - especially Uncle Nicky, who runs the restaurant where the boys hang out, and dispenses some really odd life lessons, and Jim's older sister Amanda, who just took a trip to Europe and fancies herself soooooo worldly. I think the author has a genuine talent for creating compelling and amusing characters, and I would read more of his work in a heartbeat.

However, I'm not sure I can really recommend this novel - I wanted more from it, more development, more growth, more story. It doesn't stop abruptly per se, but there could have been about 100 more pages in the middle somewhere. It's not that nothing happens in the book, it's just that nothing really changes - there is no central conflict, and certainly no resolution. If it was a little shorter it could be a pretty effective short story - but I would rather see it expanded into a meatier novel. Regardless, I look forward to seeing more of Lewis's work.

Three CN Towers out of five.