Mar 4, 2010

Monkey droppings - The Waterproof Bible by Andrew Kaufman

The monkey searches for meaning in his life.

Maybe it's in the folds of this chair... nope, but hey, a loonie! Score!

The Waterproof Bible
by Andrew Kaufman (2010)
"Why do bad things happen to good people?"
"Because it makes a good story."
Please allow me the courtesy, if you will, to begin this review in an exceedingly lazy fashion, with someone else's words (courtesy of
Whimsy (whim·sy)
  1. capricious humor or disposition; extravagant, fanciful, or excessively playful expression: a play with lots of whimsy.
  2. an odd or fanciful notion.
  3. anything odd or fanciful; a product of playful or capricious fancy: a whimsy from an otherwise thoughtful writer.
I like whimsy, don't love it. Achieving whimsy is a delicate balancing act wherein the author is forever teetering on a razor's edge between way too clever and cutesy-wootsey. And forced whimsy is even worse, as any parent forced to attend any movie involving the joint participation of the Disney Corporation and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson can attest. Ooh, look, he's a big tough hockey player in a tutu! Hilarious! Look at him prance about! *retching noise*

Andrew Kaufman is very, very good at whimsy (particularly the aforementioned "odd or fanciful" definition), especially in the category of magic realism, a category tragically laden with excess dollops of whimsy. Sure, the genre might yield a novel as perfect as The Iowa Baseball Confederacy (so whimsical, so magical, so great), but when the other side of the coin is The Alchemist (ugh), well, there are better things you could likely be doing with your time.

Take Kaufman's debut novel, All My Friends are Superheroes (a novella I grow more to love every day). It sets itself up as an ode to mythic heroes, but quickly changes its mind (obvious in its choices of superheroes; one hero, the aptly-named 'Someday', is blessed with "an amazing ability to think big and an unlimited capacity for procrastination") and instead becomes a lovely meditation on romance and love and human foibles.

The Waterproof Bible is an equally quirky effort, and one even harder to quantify. Call it a treatise on the search for meaning of life, if you like, or a discussion of religion versus the secular. Whatever it is (I'm not the smartest when it comes to allegory), it's bloody marvellous.

Kaufman follows the intersecting paths of several characters over the course of a few exceedingly strange days. There's Margaret, a hotel owner in Morris, Manitoba with a few odd traits: "she seldom blinked, her skin often had a greenish tinge to it." There's Rebecca (a woman able to project her emotions onto others), and Stewart (her estranged husband, building a large boat in the middle of the prairies). Then there's Lewis, Rebecca's brother-in-law, who has recently lost his wife and fled to Winnipeg, and is starting up a relationship with a woman who claims to be God, but only part-time.
"Being God isn't a full-time gig?"
"Who would I invoice?"
And there's also Aberystwyth, a frog-woman searching dry land for her mother. Aberystwyth is a member of Aquaticism, a religion based on a belief that "where [other] religions believe God flooded the world in order to start again, Aquatics believe God simply liked water better." There also a competing father-son duo of rainmakers. All these individuals share an internal damage and a confusion as to their place in the world.

As the above description might hint at, Kaufman has a true taste for the metaphorical. The pages of his Bible are suffused with totems, and religions, and floods, and sudden blindness. What it all means is entirely up to the reader, and there will doubtless be a few who find The Waterproof Bible not to their liking. The tale is just barely linear, and most of the outlandish events that occur are left unexplained. I would argue that when the trek is this much damned fun, it doesn't matter if you're left a little bewildered at journey's end. Why should you be any better off than Kaufman's characters? Part of life is to enjoy the mysteries, to embrace the unexplainable, and the one's who can't accept that not all is knowable are the ones who lead lives of utter misery. As Margaret thinks of the dangers of living by a rigid dogma, such beliefs remind her"of the Christians she knew who were scared of their genitals, or the scientists who could accept only a rational explanation as the right one."

"The only difference between a happy ending and a sad ending is where you decide the story ends." So Kaufman writes, and so we should all believe. Do we create our destinies? Are there other forces at work? No one really knows (although many would claim otherwise), but it may be that it is how we react to such mysteries that defines us. Some may find comfort in books that declare that there is a god, that all occurs according to plan. Myself? I'll take the uncertainty of The Waterproof Bible any day.



Remi said...

I've been a bit nervous about this book. All My Friends was such a weird, perfect little gem that I've had a hard time imagining how it could be followed. I'm definitely going to have to pick this book up.

Scrat said...

Your review certainly has made me curious. Thanks.

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