Reproduction by Ian Williams [in Booklist]
Everything here sounds off-kilter – on purpose. Discomfort pervades the reading, whether conversations are awkwardly not-quite-synched between speakers, or sentences spoken in an (unnamed) Caribbean island patois are made purposefully wooden and German words and phrases become virtually unintelligible. That jagged performance, however, seems integral to Ian Williams’ 2019 Giller Prized debut novel, in which the disquieting delivery unexpectedly enhances an already unique on-the-page, meant-to-disrupt presentation.
The story is not unique: the trials and tribulations of a multi-generationally dysfunctional Canadian family, which begin and end with two misfit progenitors – black teen immigrant Felicia and wealthy white German heir Edgar – who meet because of their dying mothers in a hospital. Decades later, their brief, uncomfortable union gets replayed – once more in hospital.
Michelle Winters (mostly Felicia), Andrew Shaw (mostly Edgar), David Woodward (mostly their son Army) take turns interrupting and overlapping one another, attempting to aurally simulate Williams’ multi-voiced charts, lyrics, thoughts, negotiations. Words don’t quite do justice here: to better interpret what’s in the ears, visual clarification with a print copy is highly recommended (which is why libraries exist!).