Before I jumped into the world of Canadian publishing, I didn’t know who Andrew Kaufman was. That was a mistake I hope none of you will make, as he is a delightful author on paper and in person, and my life has been a little richer since reading one of his books.
My first encounter with Kaufman’s work was his first and most well-known book All My Friends are Superheroes (you can read my review of the book here, if you’re interested). I was immediately charmed by his simplistic yet jammed-packed-full-of-metaphor way of writing. A lot of people have the misguided assumption that writing short stories or novellas is easier than writing a full-length novel, but they are wrong (Alice Munro will agree). To be able to say a lot in few words is quite the feat, and Kaufman has the art down to a tee.
The Tiny Wife, while it is his most recent book in Canada, was originally published in 2010 by Madras Press in the United States and in 2011 by HarperCollins’ imprint The Friday Project in the United Kingdom. Given a new look and a new audience, The Tiny Wife has been brought back to life by Cormorant Books, a small Canadian publisher dedicated to publishing the best new work in the area of literary fiction and creative non-fiction for the adult market.
The book is about a robbery, and not just any robbery, a very unusual kind of robbery. Thirteen people in a bank, instead of losing their money, are asked to surrender that which is most valuable to them: a calculator, a cheap watch, photographs of children, a copy of Camus’s The Stranger, etc. It is after this incident that these thirteen individuals begin to experience strange and, quite honestly, impossible occurrences. One woman begins to shrink, giving the book its title and another is terrorized by her own tattoo, which has miraculously come to life. Everything is in chaos, and these poor souls must figure out what exactly was taken from them in the robbery to put a stop to these insane happenings before they literally lose themselves completely.
Although I haven’t read the book yet, I am thoroughly intrigued by its content, and it is no doubt another delightful read that Kaufman has delivered to his audience.
On July 17, 2014, I attended the official book launch for The Tiny Wife, held at the now-infamous Ben McNally Books. With a fairly great turnout, the event began a little after 6 PM. The main event of the launch was a Q + A hosted by Globe and Mail Books Editor Jared Bland.
Once the launch began, there was a lively discussion between Bland and Kaufman, which was more often than not comical, with jokes surrounding the book’s strange plot line and Kaufman’s writing method. A particularly funny moment was when Bland asked Kaufman about how he comes up with theses ideas and starts writing about them. Kaufman’s response: “When I come up with a book idea, I often do whatever I can do avoid writing the book at all.” He sounds like a publisher’s nightmare, but perhaps his procrastination lends something to his eventual genius. Every writer has a style that is purely his/her own. Who knows what would happen to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series if he was rushed to finish a book (He’s certainly feeling the pressure now with the hit HBO-TV series)…maybe he needs those 5+ years to get it right. It’s unfortunate but true.
We found out another interesting fact about Kaufman: He loves the losers. This is a fairly obvious observation if you’ve read anything he’s ever written, and there is definitely something about the “loser” in fiction. Losers are far more relateable and a lot more fun. There’s no such thing as perfection in real life, so why should there be in the stories we read? Kaufman is also very aware of the reader when writing about his “loser” characters. When asked about his eccentric plot choices, he said, “I’m very careful not to bore the reader.” Well he has not failed in that regard. His stories are packed with meaningful nuances throughout, but they are expressed in an entertaining and light-hearted fashions, and as a result the reader is certainly never bored.
Near the end of the interview, Kaufman also admitted he doesn’t actually like his first book All My Friends are Superheroes anymore. As much as I enjoyed the book, I can understand where he’s coming from. Just like in any job, writers gradually develop their individual style and when they write their first book, this “style” might not be fully developed yet. Of course, we are welcome to love the book (and BUY it), Kaufman said jokingly afterward.
A final revelation from Kaufman was his desire to actually write one of those big books with swooping revelations—War and Peace material. An intriguing wish for a man who has perfected the art of the novella. Will he do it and will he be good at it? Time will only tell.
P.S. Cormorant was also having a contest in which attendees were allowed to submit their questions for Kaufman prior to the book launch. Jared Bland would then choose the question he liked best and that person would receive a free signed copy of The Tiny Wife. Who was the lucky winner that evening? Your truly. However, I still can’t make out fully what Kaufman’s personalized message was to me…any guesses?