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Book Reviews

A Sack of Teeth

by Grant Buday

With his latest novel, A Sack of Teeth, critically praised Vancouver writer Grant Buday chronicles a single day in the life of a Vancouver family. It’s September 1965, and six-year-old Jack Klein is about to experience his first day of school. His father, Ray, is about to call in sick to his job as an engineer, to enjoy a covert “poke” with his mistress. His mother Lorraine, much younger than Ray and obsessed with the Beatles and other aspects of the burgeoning youth culture, is mentally planning her long-awaited trip to France; a trip that will likely never happen.

Meanwhile, in the basement, their boarder Antoine Gaudin kills himself with a cyanide ampule, leaving to Lorraine – who has recently professed her love to him – an incriminating photograph, a suitcase full of various currencies, and a Seagram’s sack full of gold teeth and fillings.

It’s a risky endeavour (and an impressive accomplishment when successful) for a writer to immerse himself in the world of a child. It’s even more impressive when that writer is able to simultaneously and convincingly occupy the mind of a housewife in her mid-twenties and her older, philandering, and self-justifying husband. Buday achieves this juggling act with little apparent effort, shifting between storylines and perspectives with aplomb.

He also convincingly renders the novel’s milieu, equally comfortable with the minutiae of daily life and the pressing shadows of social change (with the the lingering shadow of the Second World War and the impending social upheaval omnipresent throughout). Different readers will find different pleasures here, from Jack’s innocence – and heart-breaking loss thereof – to the softly caged desperation of Lorraine’s proscribed existence to the denied failure of Ray’s life. The end of the day, and of the novel, comes too soon, with too few answers, much like the enigmatic nature of daily life.