Post Your Opinion
An Engagingly Dysfunctional Family
by Diana Shepherd

"I see the long heavy sofa skating across the linoleum and I step out of its path. The sky outside the window is grey and most of the people in the lounge are green. The sofa collides with the wall, seems to consider the situation a moment, then heads out over the floor again. My mother looks up from where she sits, her cheeks a flaming red, a lamp tilting solicitously above her head."
So begins the engaging collection of thirteen linked stories contained in Help Me, Jacques Cousteau. From the very first paragraph, Gil Adamson draws the reader into a bizarre but fascinating world. The narrator, Hazel, is the eldest child of an extremely peculiar family. Her younger brother, Andrew, despite possessing a "legendary" scream that his school-mates actually pay to hear, simply stops talking one day. Her grandfather drives around town at high speeds with a dead and decomposing dog named Rufus in the backseat. Her mother, Janey, is "physically fantastic"-"She can lie on her stomach, arch her back, and make a perfect U" with her elastic six-foot-two frame-and is also gifted with a perfect memory, which Hazel feels makes her own memories unnecessary. Her "kind, confused" father, North, is forever tinkering with-but never fixing-machines and appliances, falls asleep whenever faced with TV or movies, and shaves slices off the neighbour's fence each time he parks his car.
North is one of three oddball brothers. The eldest, Castor, is obsessed with white animals; he seems more enraged by a brown rabbit's invasion of his snow-white sanctuary than he does by his wife's desertion of their marriage. Bishop, the third brother, collects women the way his brother collects animals.
Progressing from her childhood to young adulthood, each story introduces new members in the eccentric cast of characters inhabiting Hazel's life. This collection forms a kind of Bildungsroman-Adamson weaves a coming-of-age thread through the tapestry of the book-but each story can also stand on its own as a fully realized work.
Hazel is a keen observer of the people, places, and events of her life. In fact, much of the time she seems more of an observer than a participant. This stance allows her to function as a limited third-person narrator: although she is telling stories from her own life, her detachment lets her watch events unfold without having to process everything through the filters of personal experience.
Adamson's writing has real power and beauty. All of these stories are good, but some are brilliant. In "The Lakemba", the first story of the collection, the image of the anthropomorphic sofa skating across the floor is slow to fade-as is Adamson's evocation of a sweltering, miserable sea passage from Australia to Canada on the horrible ship Lakemba. She shows her mastery of dry humour in the title story, as well as her considerable gift for creating memorable, offbeat characters. In the title story, "Help me, Jacques Cousteau", North has decided to re-wire the house again. As usual, things do not go smoothly, and Hazel and Andrew are both nearly electrocuted. While being very funny, the story manages to provide real insight into this dysfunctional family.
In spare, economical phrases, Adamson makes these odd characters live, making them both believable and bizarre at the same time.
The quirky characters and Adamson's fine prose style combine to make Help Me, Jacques Cousteau a truly satisfying read.

Diana Shepherd has been a feature writer and editor at a range of magazines, from Quill & Quire to Wedding Bells.. She is now the editor of Divorce Magazine, which was launched in March.


Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us