Thursday, December 27, 2012

“Born Weird”

By Andrew Kaufman
ISBN No. 978-0-307-35764-9

How’s this for pitch perfect for a pitch meeting in a publisher’s marketing department?
When they were born Grandmother Weird blessed each of her five grandchildren with a special power. Not “The Fantastic Four” or “X-Men” kind of power – but a weird, innate, appreciative ability, like always knowing the way home or being eternally hopeful. (Hey, I said they weren’t X-Men powers.) Over the years, however, each blessing has become a curse (“blursings” the grandkids call them). Predicting the date, hour and minute of her death in her Winnipeg nursing home, Grandma Weird instructs granddaughter Angie (blursed with the power to forgive, no matter who slights her) to collect the others so she can collectively lift the blessing/curses from them before she dies. 
What follows is a hunting and gathering of siblings that takes us from that Winnipeg nursing home to the island kingdom of Upliffta and then to a decaying mansion in Toronto. And with each new reunion comes an airing of grievances, disappointments, and an illustration of how some children – unable (or too able) to break away from a family legacy – are doomed from the start. “There was a moment when it could have gone either way,” the narrator says. “If just one of the Weirds had been able to see the absurdity in this tragedy…But none of the Weird siblings were…strong enough to be as outrageous as the circumstances they found themselves in.” Will all of the Weird kids agree to go back home? Will they make it to Grandma Weird’s deathbed in time to have their blursings lifted? Will removing them make any difference to their blursed and broken lives? 
As far as novels about family dysfunction go, “Born Weird” has a lot going for it, especially since the blursed grandkids are reminiscent of the family of boys appropriated by J.M. Barrie, the author of “Peter Pan.” Barrie told those five siblings that he created Peter Pan “by rubbing the five of you violently together, as savages with two sticks produce a flame.” And like Barrie’s boys – most of whom met tragic ends - the Weirds can’t seem to get a break. 
That doesn’t make the book any less funny or readable – just kind of familiar if you’ve watched a lot of TV shows about the misadventures of unlucky characters. 
This makes sense because author Kaufman (“All Of My Friends Are Superheroes”, “The Waterproof Bible”) shares both the same name as the late, oddball comedian of TV’s “Taxi” and the same birthplace as Alice Munro (Wingham, Ontario) which, according to press notes, makes him “the second-best writer from a town of 3000” people. But Kaufman also calls himself a screenwriter and his book is an easy, engrossing read and practically ready-made for the movies in the same way that Alice Hoffman’s “Practical Magic” read like the novelization of the movie it was about to become. By the time Grandma Weird wields telekinetic powers at her nursing home and Angie’s breath-catching crying jag is spelled out in scripted detail (“Everything’s…so…e…motional…right…now.”) you’ll be picturing Emily Blunt as Angie and Shirley MacLaine as Grandma Weird for the movie version.