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Book Reviews

White Lung

by Grant Buday

Grant Buday has an exceptional talent for creating characters who are resonantly alive, frequently funny, largely despicable, yet unavoidably sympathetic.

In his latest book, Buday creates a rollicking black comedy of errors with moments of genuine pathos and a host of unforgettable characters.

The novel recounts the travails of the workers, union, and management of an antiquated bakery under threat of closure by its owners, who are looking to increase profit by shutting down shop and moving operations across the border.

With the union forced into backing a 25% pay cut in an effort to forestall closure, and staff aware that they’re only postponing the inevitable, each of the richly drawn characters faces a crisis of direction. When bumbling Epp freaks out after too many years of graveyard janitorial duty, the ensuing chaos provokes intrigue, revenge, and desperate measures.

Buday’s writing is lean, crisp, thoroughly engaging, and incisive. Who among us has never felt guilt rise around us “like the water in a backed-up toilet?” The unpredictable plot moves at a steady clip, making this wonderful page-turner perfect for beach, bus, or bedtime reading, if you don’t mind occasionally startling those next to you with cackles, giggles, or guffaws.

Buday’s dialogue – and his characters’ interior monologues – has a sparkling veracity and gentle humour that captivates on and off the page, as evidenced at his recent Vancouver book launch, where he had the audience roaring.

But the book is not bereft of subtext. Many themes are interwoven, including working class hetero- and homosexuality, generational dynamics, workplace politics, free trade and unionism, and the dreams and fears of men and women caught in the machinery of labour.