If F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby defined a time period, then Bridget Canning’s The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes is a book defined by a time period, and that time period is now. 2017. Technology and social media figure so prominently in Wanda Jaynes that this book could not have been written 10 or 15 years ago, for 2007 was still the email age; texting, YouTube, and the rise of the ubiquitous smartphone were yet to come. Ms. Canning makes full use of all of these in her contemporary fiction debut novel for Breakwater Books.
Wanda instantly becomes a reluctant media hero after knocking out, in true David vs Goliath style, a deranged gunman in a St. John’s grocery store with a can of coconut milk. The ironic thing is that heretofore, she couldn’t hit a garbage can with a crumpled piece of paper or a bottle cap. Naturally, the whole event is captured by a store employee on their smartphone and posted to YouTube where it immediately goes viral, much to Wanda’s dismay. This leads to a media circus outside her home, and in an interview with CBC, she lets slip that she is an atheist. This then makes her the evil poster child for an evangelical group that believes God was behind her actions that day. Then there are others who want to make her the good poster child for heroism; both camps not entirely altruistic in their intentions for using Wanda. Also confronting Wanda is the fact that her contract teaching job is to be terminated at the end of the term and she has good reason to think her musician boyfriend Ivan is being too familiar with her friend Trish. Too much “texty-texting” Wanda says.
All this stress, compounded by an unrelenting (and an uncontrollable) social media presence in addition to a likely stalker who is sending her unusual emails, leads Wanda into a descent into despair, depression and a dependence on recreational drugs, alcohol and Valium in an attempt to block everything out; she simply cannot deal with this on her own and Ivan just doesn’t seem to understand her reluctance to be a force for good.
I very much enjoyed reading Wanda Jaynes. Ms. Canning’s style is not unlike another favourite author of mine, Lisa de Nikolits (author of The Nearly Girl): serious, but not darkly so, humorous, but not overly so either. I call it “serio-comedic”. While there are a lot of unnecessary F-bombs, the dialogue is crisp and realistic. As the female protagonist, Wanda Jaynes is quite likeable, and the reader can readily empathize with her throughout all her the book. An excellent debut novel.
Update! November 19, 2018: Congratulations to Bridget Canning, who has been longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award 2019 for “The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes!” http://www.dublinliteraryaward.ie/
The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes by Bridget Canning
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