Lump by Nathan Whitlock

The opening sentence of Nathan Whitlock’s new comic novel, Lump, deserves a review all its own: “Cat is finally home from a morning spent judging other moms in the park and being judged in return.” All happy families are like one another, remember, and each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

The judging begins in Lump in the opening sentence and continues right through to the end. As Britney (72 reviews, 1 follower, 3 stars) says succinctly on Goodreads, “It was quite good at the beginning, it hit a slump about three quarters of the way through, and then the ending felt rushed.”

“Through a glass darkly, Whitlock invites readers to witness Cat’s destruction, and boy are we along for a ride.”

“Quite good” is not how I would describe the start, though. More like, fan-effing-tastic. What a set up! We are talking Succession-level family dysfunction. And Succession-level writing, which is more to the point. Through a glass darkly, Whitlock invites readers to witness Cat’s destruction, and boy are we along for a ride.

White, middle-class, Toronto house owning, cleaning lady employing, mother of two, blissfully privileged, Cat encounters reality—short, sharp, shocked. Hard not to give away plot points in this explanation, but if there’s a certain disease you think of immediately when you hear the word Whitlock has used for his title, your intuition is sound.

The satire here is thick and delightful. Tolstoy is referenced more than once. No other book has reminded me more of Martin Amis’s Dead Babies (1975). Cat’s husband, Donovan, is a lunk we’ve encountered in life but rarely so well defined in Canadian literature: so ignorant, so creepy, so lost in blinding, wealth-fed innocence. The subplot involving Donovan’s renewed interest in parenting is worth the price of admission.

And the grandparents and Cat’s sister, hoo boy! When the chaos comes and they insist on a return to the status quo, Whitlock’s vision is superb. Nothing like a crisis to make you learn and grow, right? Not if you’re more determined to stick to what doesn’t work and more invested in—yes, the privilege—of finding easy scapegoats and keeping the petal to the metal, powering on.

Because, yes, chaos comes, as it does for Ana Karenina. The heroine must be destroyed. The only question is how, and what will become of the others. Will there be consequences? Will there be cause and effect? Or will there simply be a debris field and a lonely wind, harbinger of future trauma?

The targets of Whitlock’s satire are keenly chosen and mostly nailed with clear shots. Everyone is described asshole side up. The ending, though. I have to agree with Britney. The subplots are wowsa, but too many storylines set up conflicts which are not brought to fruition. Cat’s voice, so strong at the start, falls silent. A bigger bang seemed promised, and one closes the book feeling, that’s it? The song so strong fades too quickly.

Nathan Whitlock is the author of the novels A Week of This and Congratulations On Everything. His work has appeared in the New York Review of BooksThe WalrusThe Globe and MailBest Canadian Essays, and elsewhere. He lives with his family in Hamilton, Ontario.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Rare Machines (Dundurn, July 18 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 320 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1459751280
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1459751286