In Kirwan’s debut, pieces of anthropomorphized chewing gum narrate a collection of linked short stories.
You’ve heard of chick lit—now get ready for Chiclet. The characters populating Kirwan’s collection come from many walks of life, from the business sector to organic farms, and some from the shelves of convenience stores. Gum, in the process of being chewed, narrates each story. As it’s mashed between molars, it’s able to observe the environment of its chewer and gain access to the person’s thoughts. The chewers deal with heartbreak and budding love, the perils of online dating and the dangers of embezzling money, all while their faithful gum offers “juicy blasts” of flavors like “cherry jubilee” and “fruity explosion” to keep them going. Gum, we learn, is a compassionate entity and grateful to be masticated but also capable of judgment (as was the case in the tale of the aforementioned corporate thief). Each piece eagerly shares its day’s adventure with others once it’s inevitably spat upon the sidewalk (at each story’s end). Kirwan uses two narrators: an omniscient voice provides the main narrative—many of the stories feel more like character sketches with a moral motivation, rather than complete stories—while the gum relates the immediate action and physical state of the chewer, e.g., rate of chewing, level of salivation or whether bile is threatening to rise. Ultimately, it’s revolting and rather repetitive (how much can you say about gum?), but Kirwan follows her conceit to its conclusion. There’s a conflict of audience here. The subject matter is more suitable for adults, while the narrative device and humor are fitting for a younger audience—or the gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Despite a heavy reliance on references to popular culture and commodities, Kirwan writes with compassion and a clear sense of who her characters are.
Stories narrated by chewing gum might not be the next popular flavor of fiction, but this collection is sweet and endearing in its own way.