THE BIRD FACTORY by David Layton (McClelland & Stewart), 239 pages, $24.99 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
David Layton's doubtless dealing with the problem of having great expectations greet his debut novel. He is, after all, the son of legendary poet Irving Layton, and David's 1999 memoir, Motion Sickness, put him on the map.
The Bird Factory doesn't quite have the drive of the memoir - who could invent a character as fascinating as his real-life ego-ridden dad? - but it tells an effective if low-key story.
Luke Gray isn't very ambitious. He makes mobile wooden birds in his Mississauga factory, is perplexed by wife Julia's job as a crisis-management consultant in the corporate world and impatient with his real-estate-agent mom and his womanizing dad.
Luke's self-esteem is at a low ebb. It plummets further when Julia declares her desire for a baby and, after failed attempts at conception, drags him to a fertility clinic. There, the news gets worse: Luke has lazy sperm.
Most of the rest of the narrative tracks the couple's attempts at conception. The tone is poignant, sometimes deadpan, but always very real.
The pregnancy quest is interwoven with memories of his parents' troubled marriage and descriptions of life at the bird factory. Layton has created some cool characters among Luke's co-workers - all seemingly hired by accident - including the curmudgeon Hans and the sweet but lonely Phillip.
But it's Luke's dad, a once great and now burnt-out documentary filmmaker teaching film studies at Ryerson, who stands out. And why not? He's obviously inspired by Layton's real-life father.