book reviews

The Tiny Wife, by Andrew Kaufman. Friday Project, 2011, UK. No Canadian rights.

Not long ago, Jennifer Campbell interviewed Andrew Kaufman, also author of All My Friends Are Superheroes and The Waterproof Bible. Later, Emily Keeler wrote a review of Kaufman’s The Tiny Wife, as did Ngaire BookieMonster. And now, on the Advent Book Blog, you can see Monique Sherrett‘s recommendation of the short, small novel, too. I’ve wanted to read The Tiny Wife for a while, but right now you can’t get it here in Canada; at least, I’m quite sure there aren’t Canadian rights for it. Even though Kaufman’s Canadian. This is a bit weird to me, but I’m not rights savvy yet, so I don’t know how these things work.

Seeing my desire to read it expressed on Twitter, @FridayProject, an experimental imprint of HarperCollinsUK, very generously hooked me up with the gorgeous, beautifully designed and bound hardcover. The paper is soft, almost but not quite like newsprint, and it’s fittingly a tiny book in stature, and about a mere 88 pages, decorated with enchanting silhouette illustrations by Tom Percival that perfectly capture the story’s tone. It’s evident that all those working on the book had a clear idea of Kaufman’s story and the mood it is supposed to evoke.

Perhaps it seems silly to review something you can’t readily get, but the idea here is for me not only to review but also recommend something I very much enjoyed and, as always, support the author.

The Tiny Wife is the best in magic realism (one of my very favourite things in literature), a whimsical, fantastical tale set in modern-day Toronto. The story begins in a bank on the corner of Christie and Dupont. A flamboyantly dressed man wielding a gun and speaking with a thick British accent demands all those present hand over not money (“it was never about the money”) but the item on their person of the most sentimental value. A photo, a watch, a calculator…miscellaneous items are handed over, and the mysterious thief escapes. It is shortly after he leaves that the victims begin to notice strange things happening to them. A woman’s lion tattoo leaps off her leg and proceeds to chase her about the city. A baby fills his diapers with money instead of excrement. A woman wakes to find her husband has turned into a snowman. A man discovers his mother has become small enough to fit in his pocket, but worse, she exponentially multiplies, so that there are tens of her. And the narrator’s wife, Stacey, mother of their toddler, is shrinking at a rate she calculates will mean her disappearance in a matter of days.

Heartbreaking, tender, horrifying, beautiful, and wondrous, The Tiny Wife is written with engaging yet perfectly edited prose. Everything is necessary; everything is just right, so well crafted, that it is impossible to say the story should be any longer than it is. The narrator’s voice is observant but not detached, a little impossibly omniscient but to great effect, and also painfully honest. His is also the voice of a husband: this is not solely the account of the strange happenings associated with the mysterious thief but also the story of a struggling marriage.

“A modern fable,” the back of the book states, and it’s this in particular that got me thinking as I read. It is perhaps easy to read past the fable and be solely entertained by such an enchanting tale, but this book is not all charm. The clue is in the thief. Why does he ask for the most sentimental item instead of money? Why does he orchestrate all the strange occurrences, both terrible and wonderful? Why does what happens to each victim happen? How are these occurrences related to the items they’d handed over? And what does the thief mean when he tells the people in the bank:

Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please … when I leave here, I will be taking 51 percent of your souls with me. This will have strange and bizarre consequences in your lives. But more importantly, and I mean this quite literally, learn how to grow them back, or you will die.

The Tiny Wife is the story of a robbery of sorts. It is the story of a struggling marriage that finds hope. It is the story of how adversity and challenge can be to our benefit. And it is the story of how some people failed to learn how to grow back their souls, but also about those who finally understood how to rejuvenate them.

Watch the Tiny Wife book trailer!