BANG CRUNCH by Neil Smith (Knopf), 244 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
The stories in bang crunch, as the title suggests, make quite an immediate impact. The creepy dancing X-ray babies on the front cover communicate how oddly perfect and perfectly odd this book is.
Smith highlights emotional vulnerability and raucous hilarity in each supremely crafted piece. There's no "quirky for quirky's sake" - just genuinely funny regular people at the intersection of sad and uproarious.
In Scrapbook, a couple deal with grief and anger after a December 6- like school shooting. Thomas is haunted by his inaction after he leaves a classroom under siege before the shooter kills eight of his female classmates. His girlfriend, Amy, keeps a scrapbook of media clippings from the event while she ruminates on Thomas's character.
The B9ers follows a group of people with benign tumours who gather to try to figure out what caused their growths. All they have in common is a propensity for kindness and generosity that some may consider naive. Opening story Isolettes features a young non-couple, two friends who want to become parents, who exclaim over a porcelain cup of sperm, "I don't love you."
Jaybird - a definite standout - takes the piss out of a group of narcissistic Quebec actors and agents via the slightly unhinged but clever creative skills of a hard-done-by agency receptionist.
Smith builds suspense, turning sharp narrative corners for hearty guffaws, shocking revelations or absurdities. A Montrealer who lives and works in French, he chose to write in English because it's his mother tongue. Stories like Jaybird, however, with their French casts of characters, read as if they've been translated - which, according to press interviews, was purposeful.
The result is a polished and marvellously textured first book of short fiction. Can't wait for his first novel.