jump to navigation

Review: Congratulations on Everything by Nathan Whitlock August 25, 2016

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Canadian content.
add a comment

congratulations-on-everything.jpg.size.custom.crop.421x650On Canada Day, Kobo had a lot of Canadian novels on sale cheap. I bought half a dozen, and this was one of them.

Nathan Whitlock, apparently, is part of the modern Canadian literary establishment, having published a couple of novels, written for a variety of magazines, and worked at Quill & Quire, the news magazine of the Canadian publishing industry. So this is emphatically not genre fiction. Fortunately, it’s not old school CanLit, either. It’s set in Rob Ford’s Toronto, not some small town. Avoiding one of the usual cliches of literary fiction as genre, the book doesn’t feature a writer or academic as its protagonist, either.

Basically, this is the occasionally funny minor tragedy of a schmo. Jeremy is an unpretentious and not terribly bright guy whose great goal in a life guided by the aphorisms of his favourite self-help writer is to own and run a bar. He’s always worked in the service industry, including a spell in a chain pub, and finally manages to get his own. It should come as no surprise that, eventually, he screws everything up — not least because Whitlock tells you at the end of the first chapter that everything will go to hell for Jeremy.

Whitlock is a good writer, and he creates believably flawed characters. But there’s not really much plot here. It’s the slow motion unraveling of Jeremy’s plans, almost always through his own oblivious cluelessness or drunkenness (or, to be fair, the occasional well-meaning gesture), that gives a little suspense to the book. And even then things really only go to heck, not hell. Jeremy’s still around. Though when everything hits the fan, we don’t really see how it hits him directly. Instead, the story switches perspective to another character for the last few pages. Time’s passed and we get only an outside view of where Jeremy is now.

Still, for the small stakes and scale of the book, I enjoyed it. Some of the supporting characters manage to be surprising once in a while. And while you may wish you could reach into the book and give Jeremy a good shake or a whack upside the head every so often, he’s generally an amiable enough dolt.

If you want to think of this as lit for lads, well, it’s a lot more palatable than a lot of what Nick Hornby’s turned out after High Fidelity. It also reminds me (being more a genre fan than a literary fiction fan, for the most part) of Philip K. Dick’s mainstream novels. He had a series of books no publisher would touch until he died, tales of losers trying to keep their struggling businesses and struggling relationships from going down the tubes. His protagonists were the authors of their own misfortunes as much as Jeremy is here, but they’re frequently less pleasant people. Whitlock’s female characters are a lot more real and likeable, too. The women in the book are capable of making their own share of bad decisions but at least some of them have their heads screwed on tighter than many of the male characters.

Worth the time and money I spent on it, certainly.