A genuine, sometimes harrowing coming-of-age saga by a young Canadian writer. McCormack's storyline traces the awakening of protagonist Shelby as he drops out of college, tries his hand in a rock band called Smegma Bomb!, and—most significantly—becomes involved with Lucy, a droll mystic who works as a stripper and suffers from migraines. She ultimately sets Shelby on the road to self- discovery, along which he spends one day working at a sausage factory. In his portrait of Lucy and the development of her relationship with Shelby, the author is at his best, moving beyond the mundane to some real wisdom and humor. Lucy takes Shelby away from his solitary masturbatory world and initiates him into an intense sexual communion. That eventually turns celibate and becomes a Zen path, forcing Shelby to look deeply into the nature of his own yearnings, but his continuing devotion to Lucy leads him to risk his life by standing up to her violent estranged husband, Frank. Issues such as child abuse are explored quite sensitively, but portions of this first novel have a cut-and-pasted quality, particularly when Shelby returns home for his grandmother's funeral and when he tries to reveal to his parents, Ed and Peg, his true status as a college drop-out. Some characters never come fully to life, including the grandmother, who is meant to be an important touchstone for Shelby, and Eric, manager of Smegma Bomb!, Shelby's best friend and ``partner-in-crime.'' However, Suzanne, the sculptor who creates a work called Fish-tail Pie, is a delight. In spite of occasionally flat prose, the narrative moves toward a convincing, albeit existential, ending and is ultimately quite entertaining. McCormack's philosophical stance is refreshing; one hopes he will continue honing his craft.
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