In her ninth novel, Cordelia Strube continues to examine the complexities of contemporary life with equal doses comedy and misanthropy. Milo Krupi is an underemployed actor in his late thirties living in Toronto. His girlfriend has recently left him. In the last few years he’s lost hair, gained weight, and subsidized his acting with gigs as a junk remover and nude model. His consolation for aging: the aspiring artists who paint him and the directors who occasionally cast him (as the Canadian Tire guy or as a concentration camp guard) appreciate his “everyman” appearance.
When his Polish émigré father disappears, it becomes apparent that Milo’s unhappiness cannot entirely be attributed to the elder Krupi’s hostile presence. As Milo attempts to get his life in order, two colleagues from the junk removal business, Pablo and Wallace, move in with him. Pablo’s girlfriend and Wallace’s mother become regular household fixtures, complicating an already fraught dynamic until it borders on French farce.
The one redeeming aspect of Milo’s life is his close friendship with Robertson, an autistic boy who lives next door. But his overbearing attempts to protect the boy from bullying reveal how close to unhinged Milo truly is.
As in her previous work, Strube does not shy from the distressing. Car accidents, war crimes, miscarriages, brain aneurysms, and repressed sexuality afflict her characters. Milo’s life careens from one catastrophe to another, the action propelled by spirited dialogue spiked with slang, dialect, and several foreign languages.
Though sometimes sharp, elsewhere the verbal sparring falls flat. Gags are frequently revisited with the misguided intention of making them seem funnier through repetition. On multiple occasions, strangers refer to Milo as “Mr. Crappy,” while Sammy Sanjari, a television producer of East Indian descent, repeatedly declares everything and everyone to be “bootiful.”
There are moments of emotional poignancy in Milo’s story but these are too often overshadowed by glib dialogue or else diffused amongst many characters and their myriad conflicts. This is unfortunate, for despite the dilution, Strube seems to have something meaningful to say.