The Tiny Wife, Andrew Kaufman, 108 pgs, Cormorant Books, cormorantbooks.com, $20
Andrew Kaufman’s novella The Tiny Wife begins with a bank heist. Instead of money, the thief demands that the bank’s patrons surrender whatever item on their person holds the most sentimental value. As the thief makes his dramatic exit, he pauses to explain the plot: “When I leave here, I will be taking 51 per cent of your souls with me. This will have strange and bizarre consequences for your lives. But more importantly, and I mean this quite literally: learn to grow them back, or you will die.”
“Literally” is the key word here. The Tiny Wife is the sort of magic realist story where the characters’ internal turmoil is assigned a metaphor and that metaphor is carried to its logical conclusion. A Camus-reading woman becomes more centred when she finds God under her couch and puts him in the washing machine. A detective is buried alive when his family history collapses on him like a water-damaged ceiling. As a reader, you have to keep this metaphorical aspect in mind to explain their irrational responses to quirky but life-threatening events. See, the character who spends 18 days being chased by a lion which has sprung full-sized from her ankle tattoo is metaphorically learning to face her fears, but since she literally believes this literal (however wildly improbable) lion will eat her, she would probably be better served by calling animal control and trying out bungee jumping. Your mileage with this book will vary according to whether this sort of obvious device bothers you.
Kaufman’s deft prose is peppered with witty observations and imaginative description, but he struggles to nail the mix of whimsy and bittersweet emotion his story requires. The Tiny Wife is a brisk read and not without its pleasures, but at $20 it’s difficult to recommend this novella. (JM Francheteau)
(This book was originally published in 2011 a limited edition by The Friday Project in the United Kingdom. This review refers to the 2014 Canadian edition from Cormorant Books.)