Volume 91, Issue 44

Friday, November 14, 1997

calling wood


Fowl Canadian fiction

Dr. Kalbfleisch and the Chicken Restaurant
Cordeillia Strube
Harper Collins
$20.00 / 258 pps.

Welcome to the story of Raymond and all the "not-so-beautiful losers" inhabiting his world. Raymond is the manager of Chez Simon (Dr. Kalbfleisch's Chicken Restaurant), simply because he does not have the courage to do anything else. He is divorced from his wife, Mara and his mother is in a home dying from Alzheimer's. As the book opens, Raymond has made the decision to contact his birth mother, Gloria, whom he hopes will be an improvement over his adoptive parents. Inevitably, this is not the case and Raymond is dragged in to a dark world, made especially so by his long lost twin brother Dwayne.

The world is a very dark place for Cordeillia Strube if this book gives any insight into her mind. There is no happiness for any of the characters, and there seems to be no hope for them either. Gloria is a disgusting, bald woman with no maternal instincts and Dwayne, the "lucky" son who was kept, is either a chronic liar or a victim of child abuse wanting to inflict his pain on the world. Even the minor characters, like Beth the waitress, seem to have no reason to live. They simply go on because it is their only option. Not exactly heartening material.

All the latest reviews state Dr. Kalbfeisch and the Chicken Restaurant is a brave break from how Canadians usually write. The novel does break from the acknowledged Canadian style and it is not a "nice" book. That seems to be its problem – not that every book should be a revisitation of Anne of Green Gables, but at least one likeable character would be refreshing.

Strube tries to be jaded, but her twisted characters are simply unbelievable. The reader doesn't care what happens to them, as they are awful people anyway. Strube's "in-your-face" metaphors seem clever at first – but grow tired. The reader does not need to be reminded of just how smart she is on every page.

Cordellia Strube does, however, have a talent for writing dialogue. The characters have conversations which "feel" real. This talent no doubt stems from her experience as a playwright. But this does not save the book, which is especially apparent in its very disappointing ending. The ending is a betrayal of her attempt at wickedness and does not fit in the book.

If Dr. Kalbfleisch and the Chicken Restaurant is the future of Canadian literature, then be forewarned – there is only darkness and doom ahead.

–Shannon Muir

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1997