What truly matters: A review of The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman

the tiny wife book

“…the vast majority of you, if you even believe you have a soul, believe it sits inside you like a brick of gold….nothing could be further from the truth.”

The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman

After attending the book launch for The Tiny Wife, I was intrigued by the book’s imaginative content, and I had to experience it for myself. Being a short book, it only took me a one-way train ride home to finish it. I experienced a whole range of emotions while reading it, from the humorous chuckle to the perplexed mumble.

I won’t bother giving the usual quick summary in this review, as that can already be found on the blog via the book launch post from earlier (link provided above).

illustration in the tiny wifeMetaphorical and witty, The Tiny Wife is a joy to read. While its language is simple, its meanings are complex and full of wisdom. After being robbed, strange events start to happen for all of those involved, many of which are not plausible. But all of these happenings are significant.

The woman who is chased by her lion tattoo is being chased for a reason. Her name is Dawn, and the lion tattoo represented the moment she finally got the courage to break up with her boyfriend. Now this very tattoo has come to life and is chasing her all over the city non-stop. It is not until Dawn finally stops to look at the lion that she realizes she has nothing to fear at all. The lion’s features are not menacing but quizzical. As a result, Dawn is able to send it after the robber instead, who she randomly runs into in the market. The meaning I took from this scenario is that running from your problems does not solve them in the long run, and one moment of courage isn’t enough. Dawn needed to embody that courage fully, which meant more than just physically representing it through the tattoo. There are a couple other scenarios I enjoyed, such as the man who has carried around a refused engagement ring for months. His metaphorical awakening is just as powerful, involving the woman he thought he loved, a broken heart, and a moving vehicle. You’ll have to read it to find out why.

However, because the book was so short, I do feel that a lot was missed out on. I was still very curious about what happened to all the other characters who had something of emotional value taken from them. What did they give to the robber? Did they save their souls? Or did they all wink out of existence instead? The book left me wanting more, but that is often the nature of a novella.

I also found that some metaphors alluded me, such as the man who gave the robber a wedding picture of his wife’s parents. What does tying his shoes, suddenly declaring he is leaving his wife, only to find she is already gone actually mean? I can’t figure it out for the life of me. Perhaps I am the only one with this problem, but these small unknowns left me puzzled and fearful that I was missing out on something that was supposed to be evident but wasn’t. This power of subtlety, while frustrating on occasion, is also the genius of Kaufman’s writing, and I’m just sorry that I’m missing out on some of it. This is also why Kaufman’s ending is so satisfying, as you will find out when you read the book yourself. In regards to Kaufman’s main characters, you can understand the metaphorical growth that happens between Stacey and her husband, David during this whole odd experience of  her shrinking bit by bit each day—it is, ironically, a growth that is gradual and natural, that which easily resonates with everyday people and everyday life.

Stacey’s husband, David is also the narrator, which is an interesting feature in The Tiny Wife. Obviously, because David wasn’t physically there, he is telling the story based purely on what Stacey has told him. Some of the holes in the story make sense due to this limited point of view. It is also interesting because, like David, we are outsiders to these events.We arrive at the same conclusions and experience the same epiphanies alongside David, unless he gives us a peak at information he was given at a later point in time. I think this was a great stylistic choice on Kaufman’s part, as it gives the story a different dimension. We aren’t privy to Stacey’s deepest thoughts and emotions, which leaves a lot of room for interpretation instead of just being told the facts. It is a less heavy-handed approach I sometimes enjoy.

Now, I can completely understand Kaufman’s personal message in my copy now: “Don’t let this happen to you.” Well, I will definitely not be letting this happen to me, but if I come close, I can always be reminded to cherish what is most important in life by reserving an hour to reread The Tiny Wife.

4 out of 5 book thumbs up

Image of a green book giving the thumbs upImage of a green book giving the thumbs upImage of a green book giving the thumbs upImage of a green book giving the thumbs up

The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman, published in Canada by Cormorant Books © 2014

Available at Indigo, Amazon, and independent bookstores everywhere.

 

 

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“I love the losers.” – Book launch for The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman

The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman book launch

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 WifeThe 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.

Andrew Kaufman The Tiny Wife Book LaunchOn 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.

Andrew KaufmanWe 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?

The Tiny Wife signed by author