March 26, 2019

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Compromise, lies link faltering family

Canadian author and poet Ian Williams mixes prose and poetry in his debut novel Reproduction, skilfully examining the complex and puzzling relationships of a modern but very unique family. Blood ties don’t always guarantee strong or loving relationships.

Williams teaches poetry in the University of British Columbia’s creative writing program, and won the Danuta Gleed Literary Award for his first collection of short fiction, Not Anyone’s Anything. His poetry collections, Personals and You Know Who You Are, were also shortlisted for awards.

Reproduction revolves around an unlikely relationship between a wealthy, middle-aged man, Edgar Gross, and Felicia Shaw, a 17-year-old woman from a small, unnamed island. The two meet in a palliative care hospital room which their mothers are sharing; Felicia’s mother has had a sudden heart attack while working as a housekeeper, and Edgar’s mother (“Mutter”) has pneumonia. The setting verges on catastrophic; a burst pipe has flooded the building’s main floor, making it somewhat inaccessible. This external intensity seems to draw the two visitors together as they watch their mothers and share their personal stories.

(Williams later replays Edgar and Felicia’s initial conversations in the hospital room as a subtext within the last section of his book. At this point in the story, an elderly Edgar is the one in the hospital bed, and is being visited by Felicia.)

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Canadian author and poet Ian Williams mixes prose and poetry in his debut novel Reproduction, skilfully examining the complex and puzzling relationships of a modern but very unique family. Blood ties don’t always guarantee strong or loving relationships.

Williams teaches poetry in the University of British Columbia’s creative writing program, and won the Danuta Gleed Literary Award for his first collection of short fiction, Not Anyone’s Anything. His poetry collections, Personals and You Know Who You Are, were also shortlisted for awards.

Reproduction revolves around an unlikely relationship between a wealthy, middle-aged man, Edgar Gross, and Felicia Shaw, a 17-year-old woman from a small, unnamed island. The two meet in a palliative care hospital room which their mothers are sharing; Felicia’s mother has had a sudden heart attack while working as a housekeeper, and Edgar’s mother ("Mutter") has pneumonia. The setting verges on catastrophic; a burst pipe has flooded the building’s main floor, making it somewhat inaccessible. This external intensity seems to draw the two visitors together as they watch their mothers and share their personal stories.

(Williams later replays Edgar and Felicia’s initial conversations in the hospital room as a subtext within the last section of his book. At this point in the story, an elderly Edgar is the one in the hospital bed, and is being visited by Felicia.)

Edgar tells Felicia he needs to leave on a business trip, no matter if his mother lives or dies. Felicia realizes that Edgar will likely not bother arranging for anyone to care for Mutter while he is away; after her own mother dies, she ends up moving into Edgar’s large house as a sort of care attendant and housekeeper. She also enters into a sexual relationship with Edgar, even though she doesn’t really like him that much.

Mistakenly thinking that Edgar told her he had a vasectomy, Felicia is astonished to find she’s pregnant. She also discovers that Edgar is still married to an actress he spent a short time with many years before. Felicia ignores Edgar’s demands that she have an abortion, even though she knows the difficulties facing her as a single mother. And even though Edgar is rich and can easily afford to pay generous child support, Felicia would rather remain independent and raise her son, Armistice (Army), on her own.

Flash forward and at age 14, Army is a resourceful lad, earning money by opening a barbershop in the garage of the house in which he and his mother are tenants.

The house is owned by Oliver Soares, an unhappy man who continually complains about his ex-wife. Their children, Heather and Hendrix, are spending the summer with Oliver, who seems to mainly view them as pawns in a game he’s playing against his ex-wife. Army is willing to take on the role of older brother with Hendrix, but also keeps a close eye on 16-year-old Heather even though he knows it’s unlikely that she’ll be romantically interested in him.

Although joined by blood (in the case of Felicia, Edgar and Army) and by physical proximity (as Felicia, Oliver and Army share a house), the characters each seem to operate on their separate agendas. Edgar never admits his transgressions and Felicia is unwilling to entirely confront him. Army mainly looks out for his own interests and sees his ailing and possibly wealthy father as someone who can help him. Oliver and Felicia, meanwhile, live as husband and wife for years without having a physical relationship.

Williams’ Reproduction contains examples of the compromises and mutually agreed upon lies that bind families together. The ability of humans to wilfully ignore past misdeeds, to keep secrets for decades and forge on despite human frailty and failings are all clearly depicted in Williams’ story.

Andrea Geary is a reporter with Canstar Community News.

Andrea Geary

Andrea Geary
Community journalist — The Headliner

Andrea Geary is the community journalist for The Headliner. Email her at andrea.geary@canstarnews.com Call her at 204-697-7124

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