plain talk about plain people.
That's what Rick Maddocks delivers in this superb collection of short stories linked by location -- the crumbling small town of Nanticoke, situated in the heart of tobacco country and an hour away from the nearest city, Hamilton.
The stories span 20 years, beginning with the arrival of the Elias clan from Wales. In this tale of culture and climate shock, the detail is achingly accurate, from the first encounter with Ontario-bred mosquitoes to the boys' not so auspicious introduction to Canadian Tire.
This and the next story, about another 12-year-old boy's joy ride with his younger brother, who's snuck inside his brother's hockey bag, are told from a kid's perspective with matter-of-fact intensity.
Things get edgier when the timeline shifts to the 90s at the Sputnik Diner. This is the centrepiece of the book, told from the point of view of short-order chef Buzz. The rather randy Buzz gives us a survey of the eatery's clientele, including a faint glimmer of the grown-up Elias boys, while evoking the aura of depression that hovers like the summer heat over Nanticoke.
Grace waits tables at the diner, and her heartbreaking reunion with her birth father is recounted in the story called Painter. Here Maddocks gets into both the yearning and the disgust that people who are searching for their roots feel for those who abandoned them. And he portrays the ways those feelings can thwart or inspire creativity.
Everyone either makes do or can't wait to get out. But the out-bumming themes never take away from the energy of Maddocks's writing. His prose is clean and lean and won't let go of you once it grabs you.
One of the best books of the year.
Maddocks reads at Chapters on April 2. See Readings, this page.
SPUTNIK DINER by Rick Maddocks (Knopf), 283 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN