first-time novelist kevin chong spins a twisted, funny little story like nobody's business. Baroque-a-nova tracks a week in the life of 18-year-old indie-anarcho-punk Saul St. Pierre.
During the dying gasp of his high-school years, the one top-10 hit recorded by his parents' 60s folk band makes a comeback when a German Marxist hiphop group called Urethra Franklin covers it. Then his estranged First Nations mother, Helena, commits suicide on a commune in Thailand after a hungry reporter tracks her down.
Saul's father arranges for her body to be shipped back to their small BC town for burial. Suddenly, documentary filmmakers, VJs, literary agents, beautiful groupies and native rights activists swoop down on the remnants of Saul's family, scrambling for a taste of fame.
When the high school's administration bans the biography of his parents written by the Chinese lover his mother ran off with, Saul and his best friend, Navi, demonstrate against the ban. Saul's never been able to read the whole book, but they go all out, calling in rent-a-mob and occupying the principal's office.
Chong's insight into teenage angst and our collective obsession with the private lives of famous people will make you laugh and wince. Through it all, Saul defiantly remains a teen boy who wears his Nomeansno T-shirt to school, tries to stick his prick in pretty girls despite his personal failures, clashes with his overbearing father and refuses to do his chores.
The novel is especially insightful when Chong describes the awkwardness and half-formed political opinions of post-pubescent Saul. Eventually, all these details coalesce magnificently into a well-formed character who's searching for meaning in the strip-mall wasteland of his small town and in the sordid tale of his parents' brief but dazzling romance.
Baroque-a-nova by Kevin Chong (Penguin), 232 pages, $24 paper. Rating: NNNN