“Born Weird” by Andrew Kaufman (2013)

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Some are born weird; some have weirdness thrust upon them.

Some are born weird; some have weirdness thrust upon them.

“The Weirds acquired their surname through a series of events that some would call coincidence and others would call fate.”

Andrew Kaufman is up there with Agatha Christie, Jasper Fforde and Douglas Coupland as one of my favourite writers of all time. Although he’s only penned four books, and none of them are very long – two are barely one hundred pages each – he manages to weave such beauty into his prose that his skill can’t really be brought into question. The man has immense talent, and once again he’s proved himself to be a master storyteller.

This is the story of the Weird family, five siblings who have, without their knowledge, been cursed. When each was born, their grandmother Annie Weird, known to them as The Shark, bestowed upon them a special power. The eldest, Richard, would always stay safe; Abba would never lose hope; Lucy would never get lost; Kent would be physically stronger than anyone he fought; and Angie would always forgive everybody, instantly.

But the children are now adults and haven’t spoken in years. Angie finds herself meeting her grandmother again, who informs her that she is not far off dying. She has realised now that the blessings she gave her grandchildren have become curses. If Angie can get all five Weird siblings into her hospital room before she dies in thirteen days, she will remove their gifts before she dies, leaving them free again. Angie at first refuses, but her grandmother soon proves that she is more than capable of bending the universe to make life hell, so with no other option, Angie sets about tracking down her siblings.

Kaufman has a rare gift in that he can make the magical seem mundane and the mundane seem magical. Angie and her siblings are not particularly thrown by the notion of the curses (or “blursings” as they become known, a portmanteau of “blessing” and “curse”), as if that sort of thing just happens. He also throws in other fun asides, such as the fact that both Annie and Angie have hearts twice the average size, that as kids the five built a city in their attic called Rainytown, and that Abba just now happens to be the queen of a country called Upliffta. No time is wasted dwelling on these points, they just are what they are.

While sweet and magical, it’s also tragically heartbreaking. The kids are almost alone in the world after their father disappears one night and, mad with grief, their mother forgets who they are and becomes convinced that the family home is a hotel she’s staying at. The characters are all well-realised and believable, despite their blursings. Angie has become a pushover, Richard is three-times divorced because whenever things stop feeling safe, he backs away, and Lucy never has to ask for directions, either in the physical world or in life generally. This is a book that shows you why our flaws aren’t flaws – they’re what round us out.

I’ve yet to read a Kaufman I didn’t like, and I have a feeling I probably never will. Read this book now, because it’s just quite simply beautiful.

“The Waterproof Bible” by Andrew Kaufman (2009)

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The Waterproof Bible

No frogs were harmed in the making of this book.

“The limousine taking Rebecca Reynolds and Lewis Taylor to the funeral had stalled in the middle of an intersection.”

I discovered Andrew Kaufman a couple of years ago with his novella, now a cult classic, All Of My Friends Are Superheroes. Last year, I encountered him again with another novella, The Tiny Wife. So, when I found his name again in Waterstone’s, I picked up the book without even questioning it. He writes with magic, and his ideas are so beautiful, brilliant and romantic that I can’t help feel a pang of jealousy whenever I read him. I wish I’d come up with some of these ideas, although I daresay I’d be unable to achieve what he can.

The Waterproof Bible is the story of three individuals. The first is Rebecca, who naturally broadcasts her feelings to everyone around her. If it’s a particularly strong emotion, you could be three or four streets away and share in her emotion. However, she’s managed to solve the problem by trapping the emotions into personal objects, although that then leaves her with boxes upon boxes of stored emotions that span her whole life.

The second is Lewis, whose wife, Lisa, has just died. He is finding it difficult to grieve, so skips out on the funeral and goes to stay in the second-best hotel in Winnipeg. There, he gets a very important haircut and encounters a woman who claims to be God.

The third is Aby, short for Aberystwyth, who has stolen a car and is driving across Canada to save her dying mother. She’s nervous, not a particularly good driver and very uncomfortable out of the water. Oh, yeah, and she’s green with gills and has lived in the Atlantic Ocean her whole life, where she reads her Bible and follows Aquaticism teachings.

The three characters stories intersect neatly, although the chronology is a little confusing at times, leaping back and forth to show events from more than one point of view. The oddness of some of the situations within the novel (aquatic humans, tiny women swimming in glasses, a radio that broadcasts advice to the owner) are simply taken in their stride, as they’re so novel and compelling that you don’t have the urge to question them.

In all three of his books, Kaufman writes about romance – a very real romance in very unreal circumstances. Although this is not a love story, there are definitely undercurrents about the power of love, and what it can do to ordinary people. I really do think that the best word to sum up Kaufman’s writing is “beautiful”. There’s a marvellous innocence about it, about people facing impossible odds but never giving up, simply getting on with it.

This book is for anyone who believes in love, or feels that their life needs just a little more magic in it. Therefore, it’s for practically everyone.