Very Good Butter

By Ian McGillis

A review of Very Good Butter by John Lavery

Published on April 1, 2001

Very Good Butter
John Lavery

ECW Press

Publishers increasingly like to encourage writers to “link” short story collections into narrative or thematic unities that may make marketing easier but can deprive the individual stories of the uniqueness that really should be the form’s raison d’etre. So it’s refreshing to come across this debut collection in which the only link is the writer’s sharp eye.

Which is not to say that Lavery doesn’t have his preoccupations. The main one in evidence here is, for lack of a better word, madness. These characters often seem to have a shaky grip on what we call reality, driven as they are by some memory obsession or compulsive behavior tic or special talent; there’s a blind classical guitarist (“NamingDarkness”), a child archery prodigy with learning disabilities (“The Lactose Intolerant Daughter”), a long-distance runner who doesn’t always know when to stop (“The Walnut Shell”).

What sets this collection a clear notch above most first efforts is the range of Lavery’s palette and the consistent sharpness of his language.

He can go, sometimes within the same story, from lightly humourous domestic scenarios to interior representations of a disintegrating mind, and he’s got a great knack for capturing the randomness of the events that shape our lives. “The Premier’s New Pajamas” alone is worth the price of admission. The book as a whole should leave you waiting eagerly for more. mRb

Ian McGillis writes about books and visual arts for the Montreal Gazette.



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