What We Salvage

David Baillie. ChiZine (Diamond, U.S. dist.; PGC/Raincoast, Canadian dist.), $16.99 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-1-77148-322-3
Baillie's stark first novel centers on the teenage denizens of Hamilton, Ont., in the 1980s. A self-identified "street mod" documents the "empty days and hooligan nights of boots and bats and whisky and beer," struggling through an existence of urban gangs, battles with skinheads, squat houses, prostitution, drugs, and suicide. The mod, his brother, and a cadre of friends live their lives "sticking to cause and effect only. Because beyond the simple day-to-day litany of petty victories in the midst of overwhelming injustices is Consequence." There's an animalistic intensity to the novel's first half as Baillie weaves characters, style, and situations into a tapestry of apathy and violence, sparked with infrequent moments of joy. Yet as years pass and "the advance guard of the next generation" takes over, "casually self-absorbed and politically indifferent, like mopey nihilistic lumberjacks," the novel begins to shed its visceral power, perhaps an unavoidable corollary to the protagonist's inescapable maturation. Fortunately, the book never becomes (as its self-deprecating narrator puts it) "the fruitless ramblings of a Hamilton Hieronymo." It may not quite stick the landing, but this is a strong debut littered with glimpses of brilliance. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 11/16/2015
Release date: 08/01/2015
Paperback - 250 pages - 978-1-77148-323-0
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