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Fruit: A Novel About a Boy and His Nipples

by Brian Francis

You have to feel sorry for Peter Paddington, the narrator of Brian Francis’s debut novel. It’s 1984, Sarnia, and Peter is a 13-year-old who weighs over 200 pounds, and whose nipples have suddenly developed from small, pink raisins into bright-red cherries. Fruit follows Peter as he hides his nipples from the world while at the same time trying to find a “boy friend,” someone with whom he can share a locker when he gets to Grade 9.

The Sarnia depicted here is a nightmare populated by half-deserted strip-malls, fast food joints, girls who dream of working at Peoples Jewellers, and would-be beauty queens who compete to win groceries.

Peter’s many fantasies and fascinations are a way out of both the prison of his body and the grey, malodorous cell of Chemical Valley. Fruit could be described as a “gay coming-of-age” novel, except that Peter doesn’t quite manage to come-of-age or figure out what “gay” means. He’s on his way, though, and Francis makes an interesting choice in that the word “gay” never actually appears in the novel. If Peter could just find that word, things might fall into place for him.

In the end, though, reading Fruit is like spending an afternoon babysitting your talkative nephew. Peter is a sweet kid and has such a surplus of free-floating affection that it’s hard not to be drawn to him. Francis, who received the Writer’s Union of Canada Emerging Author Award in 2000, nails the voice of this boy while avoiding the common mistake of making children wiser than the real circumstances of their childhoods would allow.

Endearing as he can be, Peter’s world-view is so circumscribed by the dreariness of Sarnia and the diet of pop-culture clichés on which he was been raised that, after a while, his stories become tedious. Inevitably, you start to wish he would just sit and be quiet for a while until his parents come and pick him up.