budge

budge, Tom Osborne, 243 pgs, Anvil Press, anvilpress.com, $20

Louella Debra Poule is a recovering drug addict who takes the fall for her (then) boyfriend, and ends up in a minimum security prison. Her mother dies, and Louella promptly inherits her property in a quiet Vancouver suburb. She attends the funeral, and is released early. In her “dead Momma’s townhouse,” Louella sits in a state of inertia, with a vague idea of remaining clean and trying to adjust to life on the “outside.”

Unfortunately, Louella Debra Poule (her full name is repeated at every opportunity) is a blank slate with no self-direction, even at the level of her internal monologue. She doesn’t think in terms of “I” — instead she uses the distancing “one,” rarely claiming ownership for her thoughts and actions. It makes it difficult to get inside her, head and care about what she’s going through. We’re told over and over again what’s at stake, but rarely get a glimpse of who it is that risks devastation. When she (briefly) keeps a journal, her internal language seems shocking — all expletives and anger. We don’t see that same anger in her (in)actions.

For no obvious reason the secondary characters appear uniformly obsessed with Louella. They’re presented as crassly rendered caricatures which seem to exist solely to give her a reason to finally do something. There’s the aunt and uncle who shuffle her into place in her mother’s townhouse, the junkie ex-boyfriend who plans an elaborate caper involving lots of drugs and a helicopter, a pair of brothers who act as failed kidnappers, and two crooked male cops with more backstory than any of the more significant characters mentioned above.

These are rounded out with an elaborate troupe of tertiary characters presented in clichés: the girlfriend with the “hard-core drug habit,” the over- eager but ultimately ignorant female cop, and an oddly rendered and ill-used trans woman who seems present only to add additional colour — as if budge needed more.

The narrative jumps around, both in time and between dozens of characters, most of which seem extraneous. Louella, the central character of the novel, and around whom the narrative is ostensibly centred, is one of the least interesting and least realized characters. The surrounding cast certainly provide colour and action, but I get the feeling budge would make a better movie than a novel. (Nico Mara-McKay)

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