The Winnipeg Free Press Book Club, in partnership with McNally Robinson Booksellers, is pleased to welcome first-time author Andrew Unger on Monday, May 31 at 7 p.m., as he reads from and discusses his debut novel Once Removed.

The Winnipeg Free Press Book Club, in partnership with McNally Robinson Booksellers, is pleased to welcome first-time author Andrew Unger on Monday, May 31 at 7 p.m., as he reads from and discusses his debut novel Once Removed.

And while Once Removed (published by Winnipeg’s Turnstone Press in September 2020) is the Steinbach author and high school English teacher’s first foray into book-length fiction, fans of Unger’s satirical news website The Daily Bonnet will find plenty familiar in his book’s wry humour and wit.

Once Removed follows Timothy Heppner, a frustrated ghostwriter of local family histories in the fictional Manitoba town of Edenfeld, which acts as a sort of stand-in for Steinbach. In order to help support himself and his grad student wife Katie, Timothy also works for the town’s parks and rec department. The couple are also members of the local preservation society, watching helplessly as the mayor’s agenda sees historic landmarks razed in favour of new retail developments.

"The main conflict of the book [is] between those who want to preserve the historic buildings and those who want to destroy them," says Unger. "I think it’s something a lot of people in Manitoba and otherwise relate to. Whether you’re in southern Manitoba or in Winnipeg, there’s this constant ‘there goes another historic building under the bulldozer’ kind of thing."

The transition from writing for The Daily Bonnet to a novel-length work of fiction was a big learning experience for Unger. "Compared to writing The Daily Bonnet, it involves a lot more patience and rewriting. When I’m writing The Daily Bonnet I’m doing it on my own. No one’s ever looking at it to tell me if it’s any good or not. The manuscript I sent Turnstone originally and the book that was published… they are very different things. It really came to life in the editing process."

Erin Unger photo</p><p>Author Andrew Unger</p>

Erin Unger photo

Author Andrew Unger

In his Winnipeg Free Press review, Morley Walker said Once Removed "has a whimsical tone reminiscent of Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town or Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon novels," and lauded "Unger’s good-natured plumbing of the Mennonite psyche and his lampooning of various cultural clichés." Once Removed was nominated for the Eileen McTavish Sykes award for best first book at the Manitoba Book Awards, as well as for a Margaret Williams Award, presented by the Manitoba Historical Society, in the popular history category.

Unger’s wit and humour line up nicely with Manitoba Mennonite authors who have come before him. "Armin Wiebe would be one of my influences there. And even though I wouldn’t say Miriam Toews’ books are comedies, she certainly has a sarcastic sense of humour." He also cites the screenwriter Billy Wilder as an important influence.

Unger will join Free Press literary editor Ben Sigurdson and Chris Hall of McNally Robinson Booksellers on Monday, May 31 at 7 p.m. for the book club’s monthly virtual meeting. The book club is free to join at any time — simply visit the website at wfp.to/bookclub and register your email address to receive updates and information about current and future books and meetings. Replays of all previous meetings are accessible on the Free Press YouTube channel, and copies of Once Removed are available at McNally Robinson Booksellers.

Book club members who are Free Press subscribers are also entered to win a monthly prize pack which includes the following month’s book pick and a Free Press tote bag.

For questions for the featured author or about the book club in general, email bookclub@winnipegfreepress.com.