by Daniel Jones
SET IN 1957, in an iron-miningtown in Northern Ontario, Wayne Tefs`s fourth novel, Dickie (Anansi, 163 pages,$14.95 paper), is the story of one very fucked-up family. When HansiFrudel`s hardware store faces bankruptcy, he turns to alcohol and, eventually,suicide. His wife, Tina, is convinced that she was responsible for the death oftheir third child, while she herself is stricken with cancer. Their eldest son,Ralph, loses his scholarship to the California Institute of Technology, and isalso Suicidal. Tina`s sister is dying of cancer, as well, and three otherrelatives have killed themselves.
If Dickie issomething of a melodrama, it is also a Bildungsroman. As the title suggests,the novel is as Much about Dickie, the Frudels`s 15-year-old son,as it is about his family. However, while most of the novel is narrated byDickie, several chapters are written in the third person and containinformation of which Dickie has no knowledge.
Tefs is a skilfulwriter, and his prose Is a pleasure to read. He is good at evoking thesmall-town bigotry and labour strife that form the background to hisstory. He has not, however, managed to bring the various elements of this novelto any sort of meaningful resolution. His characters are static; whether theylive or die, the outcome is unexpected and forced. In the final three pages,Dickie decides to move to Toronto and become a writer. Nothing that hasoccurred in the previous 160 pages even Suggests this development.