In Spaz, a Toronto shoe store manager with a love for women’s feet takes on crafting the perfect shoe. Walter Finch is introverted, independent and dutiful; he has a tiny, but benign, worldview and a quietly unstoppable drive. Bonnie Bowman’s book is filled with plenty of believably full characters like Walter, all in the tradition of Dickens and Irving. There’s Walter’s best sales clerk, a cocky and tough woman protective of her boss; his grandmother, who’s obnoxious, though sometimes wise; and his best friend with his boyish, scattered clarity.
Bowman begins the tale with Walter Finch’s birth and then moves into his childhood where his love for female feet is formed. The foot thing isn’t gooey sexual stuff (though there’s an element of that); it’s reverence, fondness and academic curiosity rolled into one. The foot fetish becomes another central character throughout the novel, accompanying Walter through his unremarkable upbringing in the suburbs and into the present. While fetishes are not easy to discuss, evoking images of sleazy-faced men doing horrible things, they can also be morally neutral. Bowman provides an engaging cast of characters and a fetish she makes more compelling than creepy. The author brings the story to life with her lean, natural style and a voice both authoritative and compassionate, while also quite fun. Anvil Press created a well-designed book with sturdy materials – important because you’ll want to carry this book around, to show off and eventually reread. The characters are too personable to abandon. (John Keillor)
Bonnie Bowman, 359 pgs, Anvil Press, anvilpress.com, $20