Andrew Kaufman, the author of Born Weird, is from Wingham Ont, the birthplace of Alice Munro. He says this makes him the second-best writer from a town of 3,000. It probably also makes him the funniest.
Like the Nobel-prize winning Munro, Kaufman writes about dysfunctional families. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Kaufman’s latest book, Born Weird, is just what the title suggests: Plot lines born from this mind are truly bizarre.
Grandmother Annie Weird is in hospital on her deathbed, and has summoned her youngest granddaughter, Angie, to her side. Apparently, Grandma Weird blessed her five grandchildren when they were born, giving each a special gift. And yet, over her life, she has realized that these attributes were actually curses. Grandma wants Angie to summon all the siblings together in 13 days time so that she can lift the curses at the moment of her death.
So begins Angie’s cross-country and continent-wide adventure to round up her siblings. Her first stop is Winnipeg, to collect her sister Lucy, who has just been fired from her library job for getting hot and steamy with a patron behind the book stacks.
Lucy and Angie then stop to get a haircut from their mother, who has a hair salon in the broom closet of a Winnipeg nursing home. Mom doesn’t recognize her daughters, and hasn’t since the day their dad supposedly died in a car accident.
Sound bizarre? It only gets more so as this wacky quest zooms along to its conclusion. Angie battles the clock, and is helped along by strange coincidences, in order to gather her siblings at Grandma’s bedside.
Born Weird is strongest when it’s rooted in real places with real people — when reality is only slightly wrinkled as it is in other magic realist books such as Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami or Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane.
In places, Born Weird takes the magic a bit too far into the realms of kingdoms and fantasy. Fortunately, the plot quickly rights itself and clips along to a strange but satisfying conclusion.
Born Weird is breezy yet precisely written, deserving a prominent spot on the Can Lit bookshelf. Readers will probably feel a bit off-kilter when finishing the book, but ultimately energized. And like the reader who recommended this book, you may just find yourself on a quest of your own, searching out all of Kaufman’s other titles.
Heather Allen is a writer and reader living in Penticton.