Born Weird by Andrew Kaufman **
I will happily read everything which Kaufman writes, as I very much enjoyed both The Tiny Wife and the quirky and rather inventive All My Friends are Superheroes. As soon as I spotted this in my local library, I immediately added it to the teetering pile in my arms without even checking to see what it was about. As it turned out, the blurb of the novel piqued my interest:
“At the moment of their birth Annie Weird gave each of her five grandchildren a special power that she thought was a blessing. Richard, the oldest, would always keep safe; Abba would always have hope; Lucy would never get lost and Kent would be able to beat anyone in a fight. As for Angie, she would always forgive, instantly. But over the years, these blessings turned out to be curses that ruined their lives.
Now Annie is dying and she has one last task for Angie, her favourite grandchild. Angie must gather her far-flung brothers and sisters and assemble them in her grandmother’s hospital room so that at the moment of her death, Annie can lift these ‘blursings’. And Angie has just three weeks to do it.”
The book itself is beautiful, particularly in the brightly coloured wallpaper-patterned paperback edition (slightly different to that pictured), and it looked as though I was the first library user to read it. The story of the Weirds takes place in Canada, and the pivotal event which occurs at the beginning of the book, and which causes the siblings to start losing touch with one another, is the unexpected death of their father. Each and every one of the Weirds holds so much interest, and each appears as an individual, even within the context of their extended family. It seems – at the start of the novel at least – that Kaufman has really put his trademark stamp of peculiarity upon each of his characters.
The Weirds are rather… well, weird. Their grandmother is a true eccentric; their mother has not known who any of her children are for years, and they are able to get close to her only when they allow her to – rather poorly – cut their hair; Richard is a serial divorcee who tends to get married again as soon as the divource papers have been filed; Lucy has been fired from numerous jobs for being caught in flagrante… As one who has read Kaufman’s other work may expect, elements of magical realism – not all of them necessary – have been threaded throughout the novel.
Whilst the first portion of the book is most enjoyable and inventive, as soon as Richard was introduced, the whole thing felt as though it entirely lost the momentum which had been built up. There was a lack of consistency from start to finish, and the entirety was rendered odd and rather disappointing, particularly after such a promising start.