Reproduction by Ian Williams
Published: May 5, 2020 by Europa Editions
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Synopsis: A hilarious, surprising and poignant love story about the way families are invented, told with the savvy of a Zadie Smith and with an inventiveness all Ian Williams’ own, Reproduction bangs lives together in a polyglot suburb of Toronto.
Felicia and Edgar meet as their mothers are dying. Felicia, a teen from an island nation, and Edgar, the lazy heir of a wealthy German family, come together only because their mothers share a hospital room. When Felicia’s mother dies and Edgar’s “Mutter” does not, Felicia drops out of high school and takes a job as Mutter’s caregiver. While Felicia and Edgar don’t quite understand each other, and Felicia recognizes that Edgar is selfish, arrogant, and often unkind, they form a bond built on grief (and proximity) that results in the birth of a son Felicia calls Armistice. Or Army, for short.
Some years later, Felicia and Army (now 14) are living in the basement of a home owned by Oliver, a divorced man of Portuguese descent who has two kids—the teenaged Heather and the odd little Hendrix. Along with Felicia and Army, they form an unconventional family, except that Army wants to sleep with Heather, and Oliver wants to kill Army. Then Army’s fascination with his absent father—and his absent father’s money—begins to grow as odd gifts from Edgar begin to show up. And Felicia feels Edgar’s unwelcome shadow looming over them. A brutal assault, a mortal disease, a death, and a birth reshuffle this group of people again to form another version of the family.
Reproduction is a profoundly insightful exploration of the bizarre ways people become bonded that insists that family isn’t a matter of blood.
Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Europa Editions!***
There is only one word that I can come up with for this book. It was bizarre. From what I understand the author is a poet. This makes a lot of sense to me as much of this narrative reads more like prose. And I got the sense that the author was doing a lot of exploring of the bounds of fiction. I appreciate that too but it didn’t work for me.
Parts of this read like a poem, others like diary entries, others like bullet points. And then occasionally the author would throw in what can only be described as rap lyrics. It made it very difficult for me to connect with the story in any way because the story kept changing. I also hated that the author insisted on typing out everyone’s accents. That made this so hard to follow in addition to everything else. Whenever anyone spoke I would not be able to determine what was happening without reading it twice. It was incredibly bizarre and I still don’t know quite what to make of it.
Outside of the writing style, I wasn’t invested in the plot or characters either. The plot was fine (nothing special), but the characters were awful. Felicia alternately comes across as a naive little girl or a crazy person. One second she’s finally realizing that she was deceived and taken advantage of and the next second she’s trying to stab people. And Edgar was just horrible. Selfish, persistent liar, abusive son, abusive lover, borderline rapist, takes advantage of young and naive women. He was a real gem. I haven’t hated a character as much as him in quite a long time.
Some people will undoubtedly love this book and the way it explores how we write fiction. But, it didn’t work for me.
2 thoughts on “Review: Reproduction by Ian Williams”
Accents are fraught – because they depend on an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality.
For example, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn was intended to portray a version of Black speech and Southern speech to his white Northern readers. At the time I read it, I just plowed through (I was probably somewhere near 11); now it offends many people: Black people from Mississippi don’t think of themselves as speaking that way!
So doing this is literally asking for trouble from the very beginning.
I’m a fan of proper novel narratives that do NOT get between the story and the reader. This sounds written for some very small intelligentsia cohort of the author.
There’s a place for experimental novels – nothing wrong with that – but they are hard to read for most readers, and the method seems odd for a book described as ‘A hilarious, surprising and poignant love story about the way families are invented.’
I need something strong in a character I can identify with to be willing to read a book about them – probably because I’m getting older and more cantankerous.
Thanks for your review!
I agree there is a time for experimental narrative, and I applaud the author for trying something different. It didn’t work for me. He has won awards for this book though, so apparently it works for someone. It is definitely a book for the intelligentsia.