Author : Andrew Kaufman
Genre : Literary fiction
Publisher : The Friday Project/HarperCollins
CANADIAN author Andrew Kaufman’s work can best be described as quirky and off-beat.
His debut effort, the novella All My Friends Are Superheroes, used superheroes to discuss relationships.The Tiny Wife, his second novella, used a shrinking woman as a metaphor for a crumbling relationship and diminishing love. His debut novel, The Water-Proof Bible, was a meditation on forgiveness, family, and relationships.
To tell this latest story, Kaufman introduces an amphibian woman as one of his main characters and a biblical flood (with cues taken from Noah’s ark).
And yet, apart from the eye-catching title, Born Weird has to be – comparatively – Kaufman’s most straightforward novel.
The Weird children – Richard, Lucy, Abba, Angie and Kent – have always been a little strange but they have accepted their eccentricities, and they have never thought they were cursed. When the novel opens, their grandmother, Annie Weird, announces to Angie that grandma will die at 7.39pm on April 20. Then Annie informs Angie that she had cursed all five siblings at their birth. Annie had meant to bless them but each blessing has ruined their lives, in her view.
And finally, Annie tells Angie that if all five siblings are present at her time of death, the curses will be lifted.
Though the instructions may seem simple enough, they aren’t in reality because the Weird family members have never been close knit, and it is up to Angie to travel across Canada to convince her siblings to gather by grandma’s bedside on April 20.
And she has exactly 13 days to do the deed.
It is during Angie’s journey to collect her siblings that readers get to know the Weird family.
We learn that the family is dysfunctional. The children’s father, Besnard, died in an automobile accident in 2002. Their mother, Nicola, suffers from an unidentified mental illness and stopped being their mother soon after her husband’s death. Each of Angie’s siblings has not had much better luck in life. Richard can’t maintain relationships (he is on his third marriage), Lucy is promiscuous, Abba believes she is a queen, and Kent lives like a homeless person in his own home.
Angie, being Annie’s favourite grandchild, is the main focus of the story – and she is pregnant for three-quarters of the novel and wondering if she truly loves the father of her child.
Once the five Weird children are reunited, the novel becomes a road trip-cum-bonding session of sorts, with the siblings working together to first get from Toronto to Vancouver by road in time (a total of 51 hours driving non-stop at break-neck speed) to witness their grandmother die and have their blessings/curses lifted, and secondly to find out more about their father’s death.
As a subplot that works surprisingly well, Kaufman injects a sense of mystery into Besnard’s death. Told in flashbacks, readers learn that Besnard – owner of a taxi service that belonged to his parents before him – may have abandoned his wife and children by faking his death. It is this subplot that drives the last quarter of the novel, with the Weird siblings making another road trip, this time from Toronto to Sydney, Halifax, on the eastern coast of Canada.
However, the storyline involving the Weird siblings and a car accident seems a little overdramatic and unnecessary. And the ending seems a little rushed, as though Kaufman did not know what to do with his characters, or how to end his novel.
Despite these shortcoming, one word to describe Born Weird is charming. The plot may at times be a little surreal (Annie blessing her grandchildren which turns out to be curses; the scenes in the hospital involving Annie, her death and her grandchildren), but on the whole, the story is told in a charming and straightforward – for Kaufman, any way! – manner.
Kaufman manages to keep Born Weird both light-hearted and serious at the same time, and he does understand off-beat comic timing, which is plentiful in this novel.
Though he may have striven for surreal realism, with Born Weird Kaufman has instead presented the dynamics of a large family, and believable sibling interactions.
The language that Kaufman uses is simple and the narrative fairly linear, which makes it easy to read compared to The Water-Proof Bible, which never actually explained the bible of the title or why amphibian-like creatures are able to drive Hondas in downtown Toronto....
Readers who enjoy novels with a twist of surreal realism or who liked Kaufman’s previous works will definitely enjoy Born Weird.
That being said, the only weird thing about Born Weird is how ordinarily straight forward this novel is compared to Kaufman’s previous offerings. In short, it is well worth checking out both Born Weird and Kaufman.