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.

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