Giller Shortlist: Reproduction by Ian Williams

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Ian Williams landed in Marcie‘s stack with his longlisting for the ReLit Award in 2011…

This is why I read prizelists: they encourage me to read in different directions, when left to my own devices, I sometimes plod along, in familiar reading territory, simply out of habit.

The title of Williams’ debut poetry collection, You Know Who You Are reminded me of Alice Munro’s story collection, Who Do You Think You Are? And he does draw his epigraph for that collection from Munro. In confirming this, in the moment of flipping through his opening pages, some of my insecurity likely slipped away, for I’m not as comfortable reading verse as I am reading prose.

And Munro? She’s one of the first authors I read who made it seem possible that ordinary things that happen in very small towns in Ontario, even more specifically in the space between farm and town, could be the stuff of stories on printed pages. That little girls from ordinary places could dare to think they might write stories. About all that ordinary stuff. And here is this poet who maybe found that idea just as comforting as I did.

And what ordinary stuff? Who hurts us and who cares for us. Those we follow and those we flee. When the plot lives in whether you take a ride or stay home in the barn. And character resides in whether we ignore the noises behind the bathroom door or are thought uppity for taking a bus to see a play. And whether you eat half a grapefruit or a bowl of porridge for breakfast presents a glimpse of the future.

 

Like Marcie, I noted the ordinariness of the characters’ lives in Reproduction. And the brilliance of an author who can take the ordinary and make it extraordinary for the reader. 

 

Reproduction is character-driven, and the characters are distinct and strongly defined. Some are likeable, some are decidedly not – but they are all wonderfully imperfect and, well, … ordinary.

You might be able to argue that the odd character grows over the course of the book, but I’d argue that most of them do not. Most of them remain stubbornly the same – Edgar is just as maddening at the end as he is in the beginning; Oliver never stops whining about his ex-wife; Felicia’s determination never wavers; Army is still coming up with money-making schemes. You get the sense that they don’t care a fig that they’re in a book. They’re not thinking about redemption or forgiveness – they’re thinking about groceries and sex and paying the rent. The stuff of ordinary lives.

 

Marcie and I both found the second half of the book more challenging than the first. But Marcie makes the point that maybe it shouldn’t be easy to read.

 

… I suspect that most people found the second half of Ian Williams’ novel Reproduction a real challenge: I did. He doesn’t make it easy for his characters. He doesn’t make it easy for his readers.

But should it be easy? Is it easy for you to repeat the cyclical motion of your everyday life? Maybe reading about ordinary life should be harder? Maybe if we’ve got our noses pressed up against the ugly bits of the lives of characters like these, we might be more likely to spot a solution for them, tug at some thin thread of hope that we could put to use ourselves.

 

To read Marcie’s post in full, visit Buried in Print.

To read Marcie’s mind-blowing review of Reproduction, visit The Temz Review. (You don’t want to miss this!)

To read Naomi’s post in full, visit Consumed by Ink.

 

We would love to hear your thoughts on Reproduction. What do you think of the structure? What do you admire most about the book? Did you find it challenging to read? 

 

You can find the reading schedule for the shortlist here.

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