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Just for Comfort

by Ralph Osborne

Just for Comfort is a Canadian counter-culture road movie set to the page: Goin’ Down the Road meets Thelma and Louise. First-time novelist Ralph Osborne has written a gentle, comic tale of addiction and violence on the fringes of the Prairies – a shaggy, likeable novel of quirky characters, guns, and drugs.

The plot centres on Frank, a middle-aged restaurateur turned drug dealer and counter-culture Renaissance man, whose vile, no-good son is about to marry a vile, no-good junkie. Frank wants so badly to prevent the marriage that he puts some pure heroin in the girl’s way, hoping that she’ll overdose. She does, and Frank’s attempt to dispose of her body opens the novel. However, her death proves illusory, and along with his best friend Ray – a lumbering, foul-smelling gentle giant – Frank negotiates a hilarious, bloody path through corrupt cops, an evil ex-wife, and a homicidal cousin/lover of the bride-to-be, in his attempt to stop the wedding and right some wrongs.

Just for Comfort is a visceral journey – you can almost smell some of the characters, and this is not a book where a person’s worth can be measured by personal hygiene. Everyone exhibits disgusting physical tics. Good, gentle Ray spends a good deal of the novel picking food out of his beard and eating it. Frank’s ex-wife, who sleeps in her makeup and grotesquely flutters her eyelashes “so assertively the lashes might stick shut,” habitually lifts her dress and flashes men to ascertain their character by their reaction.

One sour note is the particular viciousness with which the female characters are portrayed: they are all either criminally stupid and self-centred or borderline evil and self-centred. And the plot is marked by a tendency toward deus ex machina rescues. Still, there is a precision to the sweetly long-winded language. Osborne describes the restaurant where Frank meets Ray as a “small-city-chic, cordon-Bleu-trained-little-rich-girl-owned, beige and chrome neutral toned, lots of flowers and a few pieces of very good art, kinda place.” There’s more than enough grin-inducing material in the novel to sustain readers through the layers of nasty smells.