Reproduction by Ian Williams

Novels, like love and family, take many forms. On every page of Reproduction, his debut novel, Ian Williams finds ways to resist and defy conventional narrative practice while constructing an audacious and uniquely challenging story that crosses generational lines. In the process, he has written a poignant, resonant tale about intersecting lives and the ways that seemingly trivial decisions can have unexpected and far-reaching consequences.

In the 1970s, Felicia and Edgar meet in a hospital room where both of their mothers are encamped, suffering from life-threatening illnesses. At this point in the story, Felicia, who is from a tiny “unrecognized” Caribbean island, is in her late teens and Edgar, who is from Germany, is about twenty years her elder. He is well off, the CEO of his family’s firm. Felicia has never known financial security. Despite significant differences in age and culture, and despite Felicia’s flinty independent streak and determination to be self-sufficient, the two connect on an emotional level, and Felicia ends up pregnant.

The story skips forward to the 1990s, with Felicia, now a responsible young woman who has made something of her life, renting a portion of a house in Brampton. She lives there with her son Armistice, shortened to Army, a fast-talking, enterprising fourteen-year-old who always has some scheme on the go, and who wants to learn more about his biological father, but his mother isn’t talking. Their landlord, Oliver, is acrimoniously divorced and his children, sultry sixteen-year-old Heather and her younger brother Hendrix, are visiting.

The story skips forward again into the near-present day. Army and Heather are in their 30s, Heather’s son Chariot—shortened to Riot—wants to be a filmmaker but can’t keep out of trouble. An ailing Edgar re-enters the picture.

Williams’ novel is complex the way life is complex, and for that reason defies easy summary. The lives of his characters—their desires, successes, failures, cruelties, good fortune, poor decisions—are described in comprehensive, vivid, sometimes alarming detail. Their bumps and bruises are real. Their world is unique to them but is absolutely convincing because it is our world too, the one we see every time we step outside. The novel’s length is an issue because the action drags somewhat toward the end, where the book occasionally seems to be telling us things that we’ve already heard. It’s also possible that some readers will find the author’s quirky narrative embellishments off-putting rather than amusing. Still, readers who persevere to the end will be hard-pressed to find another novel that portrays life as we know it with such flair, ingenuity, authenticity and genuine affection.

“Reproduction is character-driven, and the characters are distinct and strongly defined. Some are likeable, some are decidedly not – but they are all wonderfully imperfect and, well, … ordinary.” — Consumed By Ink

Reproduction was a 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize Winner.

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IAN WILLIAMS is the author of Reproduction, winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize; Personals, shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and the Robert Kroetsch Poetry Book Award; Not Anyone’s Anything, winner of the Danuta Gleed Literary Award for the best first collection of short fiction in Canada; and You Know Who You Are, a finalist for the ReLit Prize for poetry. He was named as one of ten Canadian writers to watch by CBC. Williams completed his Ph.D. in English at the University of Toronto, mentored by George Elliot Clarke, and is currently an assistant professor of poetry in the Creative Writing program at the University of British Columbia. He was the 2014-2015 Canadian Writer-in-Residence for the University of Calgary’s Distinguished Writers Programme. He has held fellowships or residencies from the Banff Center, Vermont Studio Center, Cave Canem, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and Palazzo Rinaldi in Italy. He was also a scholar at the National Humanities Center Summer Institute for Literary Study and is a judge for the 2018 Griffin prize. His writing has appeared in several North American journals and anthologies.

  • Publisher : Vintage Canada (Sept. 3 2019)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 464 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0735274061
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0735274068

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February 1, 2020 21:50

Great review of a great book! And thanks for quoting me. 🙂

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