A Whole Brass Band

by Anne Cameron,
300 pages,
ISBN: 1550170759

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Brief Reviews - Fiction
by Roger Mason

JEAN PRITCHARD, the central character in Anne Cameron's new novel, A Whole Brass Band (Harbour, 300 pages, $16.95 paper), is a big-hearted, loud, quick-tongued Earth Mother figure who always has the appropriate, usually salty, response to a question or a challenge, and rarely comes up short in dealing with the practical or emotional problems of others. Encumbered with a family for which the term "dysfunctional" would be an understatement, Jean wades through contretemps and crises with superhuman energy and mercurial humour, cuffing ears and swearing like a logger to disguise a heart of the roughest but purest gold.

We've already encountered this character in many novels and television comedies, of course, but Cameron manages to individuate her nonetheless. In a narrative that blithely sweeps along a cast of characters that would challenge Woody Allen's ingenuity, Jean turns up trumps even when she loses her super, market job, racial prejudice threatens her Vietnamese neighbours, and she inherits a house and a fishing boat on which her entire menagerie starts a new life.

Be warned, Cameron's characters keep up a pretty tiring pace, and the heroine's relentless, wisecracking humour and it tough love" philosophy can be very wearing. Nevertheless, A Whole Brass Band is full of energy, insight, and a joie de vivre that, like the ocean winds of the B.C. coast where the story is set, still manages to blow freshly through a much used formula.


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