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Kid Stuff

by Tom Walmsley

Occasionally you hear a critic claim that Canadian fiction is lacking grit and danger. Tom Walmsley’s new novel, his first in a decade, is the latest case for dispelling that idea. The book is called Kid Stuff, but like Larry Clark’s scandalous movie Kids, it does not paint a rosy picture of childhood.

The story is focused on one family’s dysfunctional existence in a small Ontario town defined by brutal street fights and rampant underage sex. While the father works nights, the mother poses nude for a kinky couple, fantasizes about beating her children, and hints at a sexual attraction to her son, Moth. Moth, in turn, struggles with homosexual desires, and strives to find meaning through boxing. Moth’s younger sister lusts after older men, and sneaks out of the house to have sex with her boyfriend Terry, who is one of the town’s toughest fighters. When Terry ends up smashing a man’s skull with a rock, killing him, all of their lives are thrown further into disarray. Walmsley uses blunt, graphic prose: bones break, blood spills, and people fuck.

Walmsley casts a light on the ugliest aspects of human nature, sparing none of the characters. Children are not innocent; adults are neither moral nor wise. But the novel ultimately fails in its portrait of human darkness because the characters’ actions lack motivation. At times, this mirrors the apathy of youth – the kids beat each other up because there’s nothing better to do – but at other times, it feels like a copout. Teenagers may have irrational reasons for doing things, but they do have motivations.

Without this deepening of character, the violence and perversity become repetitive and exhausting. The reader is unable to fully empathize with the characters, even from the darkest corners of the subconscious.