Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Lottery Winner Cometh...

"Ragged Company"
By Richard Wagamese
ISBN No. 978-0-385-25694-0
Welcome to a new genre: Recession Reading. First the plot: A group of homeless people squatting in an old movie theatre find a winning lottery ticket worth 13+ million dollars. Trouble is they’re homeless and only someone with a fixed addy can claim the prize. Can they trust – I mean, REALLY trust – a burned-out journo who just happens to be in the movie house (but has a house of his own) to collect and share the winnings?
The economic crisis, the homeless problem, the coming winter. Together they’ve created the perfect storm for a book that’s equal parts moral parable, cautionary tale, and wish fulfillment. Even better (or worse?), living in Vancouver, Canada, the book conjures up images of our poorest neighbourhood, the downtown east side. And the book’s movie theatre? It sounds just like that neighbourhood’s Lux Theatre. Political. Personal. Popular. What more could you ask for in an engrossing page-turner?
There are things about the book to nitpick, of course: each character in this ragged company fulfills a certain thematic niche and represents a particular socio-political issue. For instance, the journo who’s going to be the mule for the lottery ticket is named “Granite” because, well, he’s the closest thing to a rock these vagabonds have. And the others? They’re the kind of characters you saw in movies like “Crash” or “The Breakfast Club”: stereotypes complaining about being seen as stereotypes – except these stereotypes are sick and tired of being seen as stereotypes and their anger and frustration gives the novel a potent push that’s irresistible to anyone who’s read a lot of books or seen a lot of movies. For a good long while the characters really are dangerous and unpredictable and you’re curious to see how their story ends.