Once Removed by Andrew Unger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Andrew Unger’s Once Removed is concerned with the eager accommodation our tribe makes for “progress” and “modernization” — a tricky balancing act for us all, to be sure.
Unger’s young characters brew beer in the garage, put on rock shows in the housebarn, cover themselves with tattoos of Anabaptist martyrs, even earn graduate degrees in post-modern feminism — activities that would have earned immediate excommunication from our forebears. Yet Timothy Heppner and his millennial coterie are ill-at-ease about a history being physically swept away before their very eyes.
Once Removed unfurls and explores an expanse of prairie surrealism unique to Unger. Buildings and people disappear, seemingly overnight. When a mysterious influencer wants to strike fear in the heart of an erstwhile historian, they leave hardened loaves of bread on the front stoop — and it works!
If the satire spectrum runs from merciless laceration (Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain) to humorous-if-discomfiting massage (Stephen Leacock, Mark Twain) Unger tilts toward the latter. He makes sure his characters all receive a good ribbing, and no-one moreso than the hapless narrator. But there is also a maternal care at work — the story finally takes place in environs where an ominous future can be withheld by slow and careful negotiation. Once Removed reads a bit like early Douglas Coupland (a good thing, IMO) if DC had had a passing familiarity with Plautdietsch and an abiding affection for the films of Guy Maddin and MB Duggan.
SLKlassen, our resident Drunken Mennonite, suggests Once Removed may likely have been as gifted a book among the Mennonite set as the recently re-released Mennonite Hymnal. Could be, could be . . . but Unger’s book is the one most likely to get passed around and talked about. And sure, there’s a fair bit of “inside baseball” being played, but anyone with a passing interest in our not-so-humble tribe will find a great deal to enjoy in this novel. Highly recommended.
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