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Prose assured but story too quirky

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Born Weird, by Toronto novelist Andrew Kaufman, follows his other two offbeat novels, The Waterproof Bible and All My Friends Are Superheroes , in presenting an odd story mixed with whimsical, quirky, fantastical events, and assured prose style.

However, even those who admire Kaufman’s wild imagination may consider much of the book confusing — or even distasteful.

Quirky gets old quickly, and the hand-medown magic realism of this story of five siblings, born and hence named Weird, is tiresome almost from the start of their contrived, bumpy journeys. In Vancouver, Grandma Weird is dying and wishes to undo her curse on the five.

She had given each of her grandchildren a certain enhanced trait; for example, Angie, the protagonist, was given the ability to forgive, no matter how much she doesn’t want to.

Youngest brother, Kent, always wins in a fight, and oldest sibling, Richard, is always safe, because of his ability to see the immediate future. There are two more sisters who could be dispensed with, though one of them, Lucy, is introduced having sex in the stacks of the Winnipeg Public Library. If only there were more of that in the siblings’ lives the novel might have more zest.

In any case, Grandma wishes to undo the curse, and since, being a mystical figure somehow, she knows the moment of her death, she asks Angie, now very pregnant, to gather the gang and bring them to her bedside.

Along the way we meet the gang’s mother in a nursing home, where in her dementia she believes she manages a hair salon, and, more significantly, we hear about their father’s abandonment and supposed suicide.

The wild journey to Grandma has the feel of a Hollywood road comedy, even to the unforgivably contrived device of the gang being kicked out of an airport so they have to drive to Vancouver and arrive just at the moment of Grandma’s death.

Her death, like Highlander, releases godlike bolts of lightning into the siblings who, except Angie, go into comas. When they awaken, curses are gone. For those who hope this might be the end of the story, no such luck.

Years pass. Now there is the journey to meet their father, who is still alive, and their coming to terms with their uncursed lives. There is no surprise in his return, or even the idea of a dramatic closure to their lives. They remain indifferent to the world.

The plot is confusing. The idea of the ordinary or even slightly strange in life stretched to the mysteriously super ordinary goes only so far.

Why these curses? None of them seem inherently necessary for the characters. It is hard enough to grasp hold of any of them, even Angie, who at least loves her child and husband, people blessedly outside of this annoying family. Clearly, however, Kaufman loves them; there is no irony here, or even questioning of their inbred cleverness and attitudes. The ping-pong dialogue doesn’t help: "Don’t mock me." "Don’t be mockable," and so on.

In creating a weird world, Kaufman has been seduced to believe the rest of the world can be dispensed with just like Grandma’s curses.

If you ever knew a family down the street with kids who kept to themselves, and had a kind of contempt for anyone they encountered, then you know this crew.

Kaufman doesn’t make "weird" interesting or sympathetic — only slightly creepy.

 

Rory Runnells is artistic director of the Manitoba Association of Playwrights.

 

winnipegfreepress.com

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