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Rootbound

by Grant Buday

This new novel by B.C. author Grant Buday is a dismal, depressing affair that seems to enjoy wallowing in the various misfortunes and tribulations of its characters, in particular those of its protagonist.

Willie LeMat is a 50-year-old ex-carpenter who has lost his construction business to bankruptcy. Needing money to support his girlfriend, his daughter, and his ex-mother-in-law, he sets up a grow-op in the basement of his house. As he attempts to cultivate and sell his crop, Willie runs afoul of a trio of sadistic poachers who are willing to engage in various forms of torture and assault to achieve their ends.

The trouble with Rootbound, from a reader’s perspective, is that the characters are all so unsavoury, and their motivations so fundamentally flawed, that it’s impossible to work up much sympathy for any of them. Carmen, Willie’s girlfriend, is an artist so narcissistic she paints exclusively self-portraits, 63 of which grace the walls of Willie’s house. Angela, his daughter, is a self-absorbed, spoiled little wretch whose ingratitude toward her father’s unquestioning largesse is risible. Juliet, Willie’s ex-mother-in-law, is the most palatable of the bunch, but even she continues to accept money from Willie long after his divorce from her daughter.

But the negative qualities of these three parasitical harpies are trumped by Willie’s own self-loathing and fear of abandonment, which prevent him from achieving any kind of clarity in his outlook. For most of the novel, Willie remains a deluded and ineffectual figure. His unbridled self-pity and lack of resolve begin to gnaw at the reader after a while.

Also distressing is the fact that Buday exhibits a lack of compassion for his own characters. He delights in their humiliations and seems fixated on their physical defects and deformities – one character’s thinning hair is compared to “the scorched arse of a rodent,” and Willie is repeatedly in danger of fouling himself.

All of these details add up to a reading experience that is unpleasant and dispiriting. When I finally reached the note of marginal uplift that closes the book, I nevertheless wanted nothing so much as to go to the sink and wash my hands.