The Petty Details Of So-and-so's Life by Camilla Gibb (Doubleday), 318 pages, $32.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Reading the petty details of so-And-So's Life is a thoroughly unnerving experience. Sharp, vivid vignettes of isolation expose the ugliness of dysfunction and the specifics of child abuse, neglect and life on the streets.Camilla Gibb uses words like knives to cut through to the heart of a character's raison d'être. She also describes lives that are so familiar -- and with which I identify so strongly -- that every malignant plot twist evokes a sense of déjà vu. It's as though she were sitting inside my brain, the brain of a 28-year-old who grew up in downtown Toronto, teasing out memories and feelings and putting them down on paper.
Petty Details is essentially a coming-of-age story about adolescents Emma and Blue (short for Llewellyn), who form an intense bond in the shadow of their explosive, out-of-touch-with-reality inventor father, while their neglectful mother quietly drinks herself into oblivion. As the siblings grow up, Emma distances herself from the insanity, becomes an anthropologist and adopts the normalcy of academia. Blue, scarred by childhood traumas, becomes a tattoo artist haunted by their father, who disappeared.
Again and again, the characters redeem this painful, grim tale. Blue is particularly interesting. He goes barrelling through life with a secret, deep innocence, a chip on his shoulder the size of Niagara Falls, tattoos that rise above his shirt collar and threaten to take over his neck, his stripper girlfriend at his side and a soft spot in his heart for his sister, Emma.
Gibb's first novel, Mouthing The Words, catapulted her into the limelight. It won the City of Toronto Book Award and has since been published around the world. Expect similar success for this accomplished second outing.Write Books at firstname.lastname@example.org