WOMB TOWN by Vlad Bunea


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A young hero living in a bizarre town encounters a suspicious ice cream vendor in this eccentric literary novel.  

“My name is Tim Tolstoy,” the reader is told, by way of introducing the protagonist at the outset of this meandering journey by Bunea (A Snowstorm in Cuba, 2015). Tim, whose mother teaches history and whose father has died violently, lives in a community of vague size and diversity. Host to a mosque, a synagogue, a church, an aquarium, a golf club, a mine, and characters with names like The Quiet Boy, the place seems open to just about anything. Investigating the ice cream seller with a girl named Iris, Tim and his fellow townspeople have a lot to uncover. (Referring to the local mine, Iris explains, “Tim thinks the ice cream man buries human bodies there.”) You never quite know what is going to happen next in this novel, which unfolds in short chapters with ostentatious names like “Post-relativistic clash of absolutes.” Whatever occurs is likely to involve portions of matter-of-fact information (“The harmonics are produced by collisions of the vocal folds with themselves and by recirculation of some of the air back through the trachea”) and dreamy sentiments (“All major events have a secret observer behind an eyeglass of vigilance or ignorance or coincidence”). At its best, when pursuing this Hardy Boys–esque storyline to absurd ends, the book is a lot of fun. The thrills do, however, come with heavy doses of postmodern techniques, like stream of consciousness, crossed-out text, and wordplay (Chapter 12 is entitled “The violin lesson violently lessens”). Whether these aspects come across as gimmicky or creative depends on readers’ tolerance for such fare. This, in addition to an interest in a story that combines kids who investigate crimes on their bicycles with discussions on the paradoxes of love, will greatly determine readers’ enjoyment of the novel.

Quirky, ambitious, and self-consciously precocious, the book offers a thoroughly strange adventure.

Publisher: Manuscript
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:


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