KING by Tanya Chapman (Coach House), 224 pages, $21.95 paper. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
I didn't want to like Hazel, the whimsical narrator of King, a quirky first novel by Toronto's Tanya Chapman. Trying too hard to be an outsider, she's a little too romantic about poverty, and awkwardly naive.
But the more time I spent inside Hazel's quietly inventive mind, the more my affection grew. Her insightful observations are interesting and layered.
By the end I became almost protective of sweetheart Hazel as she waters her trailer-side flowers in a trance, waiting, dreaming up possibilities.
Hazel leaves her old life, gets into an old beat-up Duster, arrives at a trailer park, renames herself and settles in. She falls in love with King, a rough and magical bad boy whom she worships.
We know from the start he's bad news, not as smart or interesting as Hazel, destined to break her heart. But he's the kind of magnetic and wounded guy girls are drawn to and become obsessed with saving.
When King gets arrested, Hazel's resilience pulls her through, but not in a climb-every-mountain way. She gently perseveres, regaining independence and the ability to make decisions for herself.
Chapman resists the urge to be tidy, to give us full access to Hazel's future or past. We know a little bit about both, but mostly we're solidly with her in the first-person present tense as she watches and learns, gets drunk and talks to strangers and acts just this side of crazy.
Chapman's voice is fresh and funny, never predictable, just like Hazel.
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