cover image Insignificance


James Clammer. Coach House, $16.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-55245-434-3

Clammer’s piercing adult debut (after the YA novel Why I Went Back) follows an English plumber through an exceptionally stressful day. After an unspecified illness “mostly of the psychological variety,” Joe Forbes, 44, tentatively returns to work, and his first job is a questionably necessary water heater replacement for a woman he fantasizes about. (She’s also a friend of his wife, Alison.) As Joe struggles with the job, the nonlinear narrative swoops back through his stream of consciousness to memories of his son Edward, who, at 18, poisoned Alison with antifreeze during a psychotic episode. Just as Joe gets hit with a migraine, Edward, now 25 and recently paroled, shows up at the work site. Edward wants money to buy a suit so he can launch a new career dealing arms with a man he met in prison (“You have to look the part,” Edward explains). Meanwhile, devoutly religious Alison contemplates leaving Joe to join a convent. Back home, Joe holds back the news of Edward’s appearance, and then lurches into a bender with humiliating consequences. Clammer packs a lot into the slim volume and it holds together nicely, and the whole affair is buoyed by limpid prose. This look at a troubled working-class family packs a powerful punch. (Sept.)