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Review: Born Weird by Andrew Kaufman

born weirdThe Weirds have always been a little off, but not one of them ever suspected that they’d been cursed by their grandmother.

At the moment of the births of her five grandchildren Annie Weird gave each one a special power. Richard, the oldest, always keeps safe; Abba always has hope; Lucy is never lost and Kent can beat anyone in a fight. As for Angie, she always forgives, instantly. But over the years these so-called blessings ended up ruining their lives.

Now Annie is dying and she has one last task for Angie: gather her far-flung brothers and sisters and assemble them in her grandmother’s hospital room so that at the moment of her death, she can lift these blessings-turned-curses. And Angie has just two weeks to do it.

What follows is a quest like no other, tearing up highways and racing through airports, from a sketchy Winnipeg nursing home to the small island kingdom of Upliffta, from the family’s crumbling ancestral Toronto mansion to a motel called Love. And there is also the search for the answer to the greatest family mystery of all: what really happened to their father, whose maroon Maserati was fished out of a lake so many years ago?

Quirky books are my kryptonite. I love those books that others might hesitate from choosing. You know them – the ones with characters who don’t behave exactly as they should, or with circumstances that may or may not be tinged with magic, or with situations that are just that little off the norm. Born Weird is, therefore, exactly my cup of tea, and when I found myself roaming the halls at 3 am recently, it was the first thing I grabbed off my TBR pile to settle me down. Engaging and funny, and more than a little touching at times, this is a truly absorbing read that kept me reading well past the break of day.

We are first introduced to Angie, the one who constantly forgives. Summoned by her grandmother and given a mission to gather her siblings, you quickly come to realize that Angie, for all her anxiety and frequent bursts of tears, is stronger than she realizes. She perseveres in her quest to assemble her siblings, and we learn more about her inner strength each time we meet another one of her equally diverse relations. Lucy, Richard, Abba and Kent are soon introduced, and we soon realize that this mighty band of five have been each other’s best friends (and, in the way of siblings, each other’s worst enemies) for a very long time. By not being in contact with each other, they have lost a part of themselves, and it is fascinating to see them come to life again.

I should probably touch upon the nature of each sibling’s blessing/curse, or “blursing” as they refer to them in the book. Kaufman manages to imbibe each character with a unique interpretation of each quality without hitting you over the head with the obviousness of it all. Half of the delight of the journey is exploring just how each person has allowed their ‘blursing’ to dictate their life, and how their personality has developed as a result of it all. At the end of the day, the only people who can truly understand each of the five individuals are their siblings. Angie’s ability to forgive has meant that she cannot trust her relationships to treat her fairly. Richard’s need to play it safe means he withdraws from any connection that might constitute an emotional or physical risk. Lucy is never lost, despite trying to lose herself in situations of intense feeling. Abba holds hope and Kent has physical strength – neither quality allowing them the chance to interact with the real world in a meaningful way, so they live lives disconnected from reality.

While the relationships between the siblings is fascinating, their collective relationship to their parents is heartbreaking. Both of their parents have chosen to withdraw from their children’s lives in some way, and this decision has had a profound affect on each of them. The mystery of their father’s disappearance underlies everything in his children’s lives, including the slow and tragic descent of their mother. While I enjoyed the mystery of the father’s disappearance, I also felt that discovering what had happened to him was simply the icing on the cake of each character’s growth. As much as the scenes with the children’s mother (especially the haircuts!) made me laugh, they also produced a pang of sadness within, as it became obvious that each child still deeply cared for her, and struggled to reconcile the mother they knew with the person she had become. As the first child to approach becoming a parent herself, you can see how Angie

While reading the book, I commented online that this was like a Canadian version of “The Royal Tenenbaums“, the quirky movie by Wes Anderson about a quirky family that reunites when one member announces he is terminally ill. The Canadian-ism of this book makes it, in my mind at least, far superior, with the journey across the country (and beyond) providing an almost mythic quest quality to the story. The characters quite literally cross from sea to sea in their search for each other and for answers, and the diversity of landscape speaks to the diversity of each individual.

It can’t be denied that Andrew Kaufman writes quirky books. What makes his work so different from many others of the same style is his ability to create wonderfully diverse characters that draw you in and drag you along for the ride. Born Weird is no exception, and I found myself completely fascinated by the antics of Angie, Richard, Lucy, Abba and Kent as they made the journey to find each other and themselves. This is a modern-day fairytale, complete with quests, (inner) dragons to slay, magic and princesses – in short, a delight to read and absorb.

Born Weird was provided by Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. It may be purchased from Indigo, Amazon and your friendly independent bookstore. ISBN: 978-0307357649, 288 pages.

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2 Responses »

  1. I just finished this last night and I also really enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun to read and very engaging. I liked how the siblings interacted with one another. It reminded me of how I am with my siblings (minus the blursings of course)

    Like

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