Friend benefits

Mar 17 2011 Published by under Culture

Sarah Smellie looks at the growing phenomenon of crowdfunding.

So you’ve got a great idea for an arts project—a brilliant photography project, a novel, a short film, whatever. How do you find the money to put it together?

A few local filmmakers have turned to their social networks for the answer.

Traditionally, you’d pay for it yourself and/or you’d fill out multi-page applications to institutions like the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council (NLAC). Those applications would be vetted by a small group of authorities and, if your project suits their fancy or your reputation guarantees that it’d suit someone else’s fancy, you’d get a cheque.

But what if you didn’t get a cheque? Or what if it isn’t enough?

More and more these days, this is where crowdfunding comes in. It’s an old practice, relying on the idea that small contributions from large numbers of people add up. Think of a Salvation Army Santa collecting coins at Christmas. A modern incarnation is at the top of Wikipedia’s “Crowd funding” page, where founder Jimmy Wales appeals to readers for a donation of any amount. Got $20? He’ll take it, via PayPal. Your $20, along with tens of thousands of other readers’ dollar bills, keeps the site financed.

Charities do it, political campaigns do it, and now artists are doing it.

Allison White is looking for your twenty bucks to help support the making of her short film, Decoloured. She won the Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award, which came with an appreciable sum of money, but she needed a bit more cash for the film. So she set up a page for Decoloured on, a popular crowdfunding site for arts projects, where people can donate anything from $10 to $1,000 to her project. Each amount netted a perk for the donor: Ten bucks got them a hug and a nod of thanks, a thousand made them a producer.

“With a feature film,” she says, “you could approach someone and say ‘hey, would you like to invest a bunch of money in my film and be an executive producer?’ It might make money, and there might be a return for the investor. But not with a short film.”

Instead, the Indiegogo approach let her solicit small contributions from a large group of people—her social network—and give them small returns, like their name in the credits.

“People could decide on their own if they wanted to give money,” she says, “and they didn’t feel pressure to give a large amount. Even $10 makes a difference.”

As an added bonus, each donor will probably check out the result, especially if their name is on it.

She applied for a grant, and considered a fundraising show with a few bands. “But if I did a show, I might make $1,000,” she says. And a show could only attract so many attendees. A website, on the other hand, can reach all her Facebook friends, and it won’t go offline after last call.

She emailed Decoloured’s Indiegogo page to her friends, and posted it on her Facebook page. It got reposted and reposted, and, eventually, she racked up $3,760 in donations. That’s more than a new artist can ask for from an NLAC Project Grant.


George Murray has a lot to say about the phenomenon. He’s a poet and Executive Director of the Association for Cultural Industries—an organization which, in part, helps artists get access to funding.

“I think it’s a great idea,” says Murray. “It’s hard to get a certain level of funding that you need when you don’t have a certain track record. And you’re saving time on all the applications that you’re required to write, which can be onerous.”

A successful crowdfunding campaign might even help with securing grant money in the future.

“If a project has community support, then the government is justified in spending money on it,” says Murray. “200 people donating ten bucks shows that 200 members of the general public support the project. And a neat corollary is that it involves the community in the production, which might not be otherwise involved.”

Of course, peer review is a large part of securing any grant, and harvesting your social network for funds effectively deletes that component.

Chad Pelley is an author and a $25 donor to White’s film. He says he donated because he saw that White was passionate and thoughtful about her work. That, says Pelley, is a kind of peer review.

“Traditional peer review for, say, a government grant, has its merits,” he says. “Like quality control and ensuring a variety of projects are being funded. But things like Indiegogo will reduce the influence of bias and popularity. Instead of a jury of two or three people, thousands of individuals get to choose what they would like to see and hear. The collective taste might favour a certain kind of movie or novel, but there’s more hope for the obscure artists finding some funding this way.”

George Murray doesn’t think it’s much of a concern, either. “Good art,” he says, “will always find an audience. If good work is being held up by red tape around funding then this is a viable alternative.”


Since White started her Indiegogo campaign, a number of others have cropped up: Jordan Canning set up a page for her short, “Oliver Bump’s Birthday”; Krissy Holmes and Joel Thomas Hynes are looking to you to support their film, Clipper Gold; Elsa Morena’s film, The Goblin Market, is pulling in donations; and Corner Brook artist Philip Robbins is using a similar site,, to help his photography project along.

Is this a revolution in arts funding?

Murray doesn’t think so. And he doesn’t think successful crowdfunding campaigns will dissuade governments from investing in the arts, either. “I doubt it’ll ever take off to that level,” he says.

In fact, the real problem for the crowdfunding approach might be the crowd itself. “We’re a small community,” says White. “The novelty will wear off. There are a number of other films doing this now, and there must be an overlap in the people they’re asking.”

But if the project is right, she’d do it again. “I think you have to carefully select the projects. It depends on how much money you need to raise, and if there are a lot of other people asking. It worked for me because I had this award.”

“I would have made the film, regardless,” she adds. “This will just make it a lot easier. I’ll be able to do it exactly the way I want.”

Friend benefits

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Hedwig & The Angry Inch: Sex & Rock & Roll

Mar 10 2011 Published by under On Stage

Photo by Ian Vardy

Back in 2009, local theatre company c2c mounted their version of the cult musical about a rock and roll band fronted by an East German transgender singer. And this month they’re doing it again.

It’s a strange kind of theatre show. It’s held in a bar. The actors stay on stage for the entire set. They play loud rock and roll. Yet, somehow, they manage to make it work like a piece of theatre. But don’t let that scare you.

Elling Lien got a chance to talk with Brad Hodder, who plays the character of Hedwig.


…I heard from someone that as you get the wig on and start putting your costume on backstage, you start turning into a real diva. How do you get into your character? How do you find your Hedwig?

[laughter] The costume definitely completes the character. I would rehearse in jogging pants and a T-shirt, because I wanted to be able to move, but the minute I put on that stuff… It’s pretty restrictive… It’s pretty tight. And the fake nails go on. And the hair is crazy. You have to give yourself over to it.

Normally I bite my nails, so I don’t have nails, but then all of sudden you put on these long nails and that, as ridiculous as it sounds, that actually means I have to pick things up differently. There’s something about that, now that I think of it, the nails really do something. They force me to interact with the things and the people around me a lot more daintily because I don’t want to break a nail. Seriously. Because we’ve only got so many of them.

Put on some press-on nails and see how it changes you. Put on nails and try and do up your shoes. Seriously. Try and tie your shoes, or take a beer cap off a beer. You can still do it, but it’s a completely different way of interacting with the world. And that’s just the hands. Just the fingers. It changes everything.



…How does this show relate to other kinds of theatre you’ve done? Because it seems like a real hybrid. An actual rock gig and a theatre show in one…

Yeah, I think this one’s kind of different. It has a built-in cult following because of the movie adaptation [from 2001], so you’ve got people who have seen that. It speaks to a community.

Charlie Thomlinson [the director of the show] he talked about this last year. With this show you are tricking people into coming to a play. They think they’re going to a rock show and then you trick them. You hit them with a few monologues here and there and then ha ha ha! It’s a play. [laugh]

There are metaphors! There’s character development!

Yeah, there’s all kinds of stuff. And because a stage production is different from a movie, and most people here who went knew it from the movie only.

What we found last year is we had a lot of people who came once and they came back again the next night. The word-of-mouth was really great. We put a lot of work into it and we were really happy with how it turned out. We were pretty proud of it.

I think what really made a difference is it’s in a bar. You can buy a drink. You can even get loaded while you watch the show, which can be fun.

I guess that’s the thing. The Rock House is a perfect spot for that show, but I’d like to try this once in a theatre too just to see how it works there. It’s definitely a play, but there’s a lot of interplay with the audience, because the premise is you’re at a live Hedwig gig, and whatever happens, happens. Some people in the audience react to things and we riff off that.

I was just looking at the photos from last year and there was a sequence of two photos where someone from the audience was feeding you gummi bears. That wasn’t a plant, was it?

Hedwig talks about the gummi bears, but that wasn’t a plant. That just happened. Closing night last time we even had a bunch of people show up with Hedwig-style styrofoam wig cut-outs on their heads.

At that point you know you have a phenomenon on your hands.

[laugh] It helps too that we have a great band. Janet Cull can sing the crap out of anything. You know, I like to rock and roll and pretend I’m a rock star, that’s fun. And when you know you’ve got Janet Cull there to pick up where I waiver, it’s go great. She just comes in and saves the day.

Yeah, it’s a show that has been taken up. Last time we did a few appearances before opening, and I guess that got some word out. But it really rallied beyond what we expected. It seemed to me like it got the regular theatre audience out, but it also rallied a whole other kind of community out for it as well.

Lots of people took ownership of it. For me, on a purely selfish level, it’s the closest thing I will ever have to feeling like a rock star. Which feels so great.

The music for the show is so great. When you do the show you’re given that gift. I mean, the text is great. The story’s fantastic. You have interplay with the audience. But then on top of all that you get these songs that are just…

You’d do it a disservice to call it musical theatre, because they’re real rock and roll songs.

They wrote a tribute to rock and roll. There are so many influences there, in the text and in the music.

I read that when they were getting that show ready for the first time in New York City, they were playing covers in bars—like glam era David Bowie—and changing the lyrics to fit the story. Later they wrote the music.

Yeah, mostly music by the people referred to in the show as “crypto-homo rockers.”[laugh]

Yeah, from what I know of the show, they spent a lot of time playing around with it, playing it in dingy bars and trying different venues for it. Messing around with it with no real, conscious idea that it was their workshop period. It just took on it’s own life and it worked, because it’s still going over 20 years later.

Photo by Ian Vardy



…I really enjoyed the audience participation when I saw the show last time. The singalong especially.

Thanks. There’s this moment in the show where it’s kind of like storytime. Charlie wanted us to treat it like story time as an experiment.

“Maybe we’d get people to sit down at this point.” And sure enough, when Hedwig goes, “all right everybody, storytime,” we watched 90 per cent of the audience sit down on the scuzzy floor of the Rock House. Like, holy crap! It’s moments like that, and moments like the singalong where people actually do sing along, and moments where people give you the gummi bears, that you realize that this is a different experience.

With this show, I don’t know how else to describe it except there was a real sense that, in some way, the show wasn’t ours any more. Ten minutes into the first performance last time there was a sense that this show wasn’t just ours. For whatever reason, it belonged to everybody in that room. That sounds a little flighty, but I don’t know how else to describe it. It really did become this thing that had all of those wonderful elements of live performance. We are all here, right now, for this next hour. This is special, this is unique, and this is ours, and it’s only going to happen here.



…I heard your parents went to see it last time. What do they think of it all?

You know, when they heard we were remounting it, mom and dad couldn’t stop telling everyone about Hedwig. It was so weird hearing my dad at the table at Christmas time telling my uncles, “so in this show Brad plays this character who had a sex change and now he has no penis and no vagina. It really is an excellent show.” [laugh]

Dad came to the opening night, and then they came back again for another show. And my parents, they don’t do that usually. But they really liked this one. On some level, I think this show is really fringe and bizarre. But there seems to be a truth to it that lots of people can identify with.

Ultimately it’s someone trying to find themselves. And that’s something everybody does. We spend our whole lives doing that. Hedwig has such a rough go of it, but then you can watch her on stage finding herself, in some way.

c2c’s production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, directed by Charlie Tomlinson, will be at the Rock House on Thursday, March 10 at 9pm and Friday, March 11 at 9pm and 12am. Tickets are $20 and available at Model Citizens or at the door. 19+ only. Rock on.

Hedwig & The Angry Inch: Sex & Rock & Roll

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Keith Vokey, Master Screecher

Mar 01 2011 Published by under People

Keith Vokey, resident screecher at Christian’s Pub on George Street, estimates he’s screeched-in between 30-35,000 people over the past 17 years. While the origins of the screech-in are a bit hazy, his father, Merle Vokey, is considered to be a major player in the invention of the tradition. At age 16, Keith met Rush at a screech-in and there’s been no looking back ever since.

How did you get your start with the screech-ins?
My first time seeing a screech-in, it was done by my father out at Grenfell College one summer at a teacher’s conference. I was about seven or eight years old. I thought he was kind of dorky. But he made everybody laugh and they seemed to like him, so that was cool. Saw a few more throughout the years. It was shortly after meeting Rush when I realized by doing this screech-in thing, maybe I’d meet my heroes as they came through town too. So it became a past time hobby that was also an occasional job.

After 17 years of screech-ins, you must have the routine down.
It comes pretty easily now. What I do concentrate on these days is where I’m going and how I’m going to get to the next part. That’s the fun in it for me. It’s an interactive show that has forced reactions. I ask people to perform in specific ways, so I’m always looking for the right person to offer up the best reaction. So when I’m singing a song, I’m also sizing up the room and sifting through the people for good candidates. Do they have a relaxed personality that could take a little poking and prodding? Or are they the type of person who, if I were to light a spark under them, would blow up? There’s a fine line because if you get someone too outgoing, they might take over the show and while sometimes that’s great, their grandstanding can also take attention away and the energy of the show goes down. It all has to do with timing and energy.

You must be very connected with your audience.
It is very intimate. I call it a cross between guerrilla theatre and folk drama. I do get to touch people and be touched by them.

You can’t do this without being touched by people. Not by everybody of course. With some people you’d prefer they didn’t touch you. [laughs]

Not everyone is in favour of the screech-in. What would you say to them?
Some people say that it’s a misrepresentation of our culture. My response is that yes, I am presenting the Newfoundland stereotype. That’s kind of the whole point. But I take the stereotypes and turn them on their ear. This is not what Newfoundland is all about. I don’t think anyone seriously believes it. I am presenting a negative stereotype, but I’m also working to disabuse people from that stereotype. I’m fully aware of the objections that come with what I do. My father warned me before I ever got into it. And it was something that I questioned deeply on a moral level. Am I selling my culture out? Am I betraying my province? I’ve looked myself in the mirror and I’ve asked myself all those questions and I can say deep down in my heart, no, I am not. Some might misinterpret what I’m presenting and maybe I’m not doing it in the best way possible. But my heart is in the right place.

Why do you keep doing it?
I love meeting people. Especially when you talk to those who have travelled from far away and have something very insightful or heartfelt to say about where they’re from or how they perceive things or how their culture is different. There are countless stories like that. I feel like I’ve almost met the world in this 200 square foot space. I’m very blessed by what I saw growing up and how I came to do this. There was no plan to do it, but boy am I glad to be here and do what I do. It’s something very special.

Interview and photo by Ryan Davis

Keith Vokey, Master Screecher

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Hot Tickets for March 2011

Mar 01 2011 Published by under Hot Ticket

Joel Plaskett Emergency

Music – March 4

Ever since Thrush Hermit formed in 1992, Nova Scotia’s Joel Plaskett has been one of the godfathers of Canadian indie rockdom. Two decades on, his boyish tenor has graced nine albums, including 1999’s classic In Need of Medical Attention.

Bringing his catchy brand of intimate, earnest songwriting, Plaskett and his backing band The Emergency will play the Breezeway on March 4 at 8pm. Tickets are $20 in advance for students, and $25 at the door. For everyone else, it’s $30. Nathan Downey


The Jack Ring Cycle

Spoken Word – March 15

All distinct cultures have oral traditions that help define them, groups of folk tales that come from that a people’s struggle to survive. Some have honed these oral traditions into national epics, like the Finnish Kalevala or the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh. Newfoundland’s answer to these may well be Jack.

The Jack Tales are folk stories depicting five centuries of Newfoundland culture, the virtues and follies of the people here.

As part of the 7th-annual St. John’s Storytelling Festival, a group of tale-tellers, thinkers, and historians will compare the Jack Tales to Newfoundland’s actual history in the hopes of mapping out a folk epic of our very own.

Featuring stories by Andy Jones, Anita Best, Marc Cormier, Ford Elms and Mary Fearon, and talks by Richard Cashin, Marjorie Doyle, Ryan Cleary, and John Fitzgerald, the Jack Ring Cycle takes place at The Ship March 15, starting at 5:30pm. Entrance is $5 and includes a Jack snack. We’re not quite sure what that means. Nathan Downey


Goya: The Disasters of War and Los Caprichos

Visual Art – Opening reception March 4

Francisco Goya ranks as one of Spain’s most celebrated painters, as a true master of the romantic era. His work earned him celebrity during his own time and a lucrative gig as court painter to the Spanish royal family. He also happened to live during an especially tumultuous period of war on the Iberian peninsula.

Being openly critical of the monarchy’s actions would have cost him far more than his cushy job as a royal portrait painter, Goya nevertheless produced a series of 82 prints in secret entitled “The Disasters of War” in response to the violence he witnessed.

They are stark images of the horror and fallout of war—brutal scenes of violence, disease, and starvation. Critics regard the series as some of the finest examples of anti-war art ever produced.

Presented by the National Gallery of Canada, all 82 prints, plus a bonus folio of satirical prints called “Los Caprichos”, will be on display at The Rooms, kicking off with an opening reception March 4 at 7:30pm. Nathan Downey

Hot Tickets for March 2011

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Devious designs

Mar 01 2011 Published by under Full Tilt

MUN's Ocean Sciences Centre

What’s the connection between Bond villains and Modernist architecture?

Out on the Red Cliff path near the end of the trail, one can see all the way down to Logy Bay, where the Marine Lab is. And from this vantage point, you can get a great view of this really interesting modern building. The thought has occurred to me before that the Marine Lab (also known as the Ocean Sciences Centre) looks like it could be the home-base of some kind of eccentric super-villain.

I wonder about this apparent connection between Modernism and villainy that I have subconsciously made. Modernism and its philosophy is often criticised by New Urbanists and contemporary architecture critics. They consider the buildings to be culturally sterile. Void of identity.

Super-villains, on the other hand—who generally seem to have the most impeccable taste in architecture and design—appear to be great fans of Modernism. The Modernist dwellings of Bond villains are a case-in-point. Maybe it was just the era in which the films emerged that made for such great architecture, but there was something about the huge scale, stylishness, and sheer improbability of the cold-war-era villain dwelling that propelled it to archetypal status. Many of these set designs were heavily inspired by prominent Modernist architects like Le Corbusier, Mies van de Rohe and Walter Gropius. Some exemplary pieces of Modernist architecture were even used as sets, like the Elrod House by John Lautner. The villian’s lair always had most exquisite materials: marble, exotic hardwoods, precious metals. It would be nestled into a mountainside or other spectacular location with panoramic glass walls, vast open rooms with spaces divided by sculptural ceilings and in-floor water features.

Film and architecture critics have noted before now that the Bond villain and the Modernist architect are, in many ways, one in the same. Radical schemes to change the world for an indeterminable good or bad have been common themes amongst architects. Modernists like Le Corbusier dreamt of eradicating the existing chaos of our planet – having a clean slate upon which to build an idealized, rationalized utopian world. Le Corbusier (born Charles-Édouard Jeanneret) himself was the perfect template for Ian Fleming’s villains. He gave himself a new name, he ruthlessly castigated his adversaries, and he had a mission that sounded eerily like world domination.

While Modernist architects probably weren’t seeking actual global domination, the result of their work did produce a kind of global style. The work of famous Modernist architects like Mies Van de Rohe was defined partially by a desire to transcend regional and national identity, and to speak the material language of international business and politics. This philosophy translated into buildings that rejected local characteristics, but celebrated the essence of materials and structural functions. The absence of any contextualizing feature makes it such that the building belongs nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Even though frequently seen as outsiders—especially in places like Newfoundland—Modernist buildings can be picked up and placed in any location and still make sense.

In fact, recently I learned that the Arts and Culture Centre in Grand Falls Windsor started its life as the Czech Pavilion at the ‘67 expo in Montreal. The building, designed by Czech architects Repa and Pycha, was purchased from the Czechoslovakian government by Smallwood in 1967 for 230,000 Czech crowns. The pavilion was actually brought over in pieces and reassembled in Grand Falls. This was easy, as it was a prefabricated modular building, designed specifically for assembly and reassembly. It houses a 400-seat theatre, an art gallery and a public library. It’s a truly fascinating building and I was surprised that its story is not as celebrated as it could be.

I wonder what this relationship between high Modernism and villainy says about Modernism in reality. Is there perhaps a Bond-villain effect that taints our perception of Modernist design? Examples of Modernism in Newfoundland are sparse, and our collective definition of important historical architecture is selective and excludes the instances of great Modernist buildings that we do have. Even though these buildings might be a part of something bigger, something other than our regional architectural identity, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t fit in somehow and be a rich cultural contribution that makes this island interesting.

Devious designs

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I’se the B’y

Mar 01 2011 Published by under Books

Mark Callanan reviews Larry Matthews’ The Artificial Newfoundlander.

In Newfoundland literature it’s almost legendary how the Burning Rock Collective, a writing group made famous by the most famous of its members, grew out of a creative writing course taught by author and academic Larry Mathews. While most of the attention has gone to stylistic pyrotechnicians Michael Winter and Lisa Moore, Mathews’ 2003 short story collection, The Sandblasting Hall of Fame, has gained some small (if inadequate) recognition. In a Canadian Encyclopedia entry on the Collective, Mathews’ first book is identified as being among the best short story collections to have been produced by the BRC writers.

And, truth be told, it is a solid collection: comically adept, but also capable of serious and piercing insights into the human condition. Describing its characters on the jacket copy, Mathews calls them “Clowns […] that see the Fall of Man whenever they slip on a banana peel.” But “They’re pilgrims too, always looking for something they usually think they’ve found.” The narrator of Mathews’ first novel, The Artificial Newfoundlander, pilgrim though he may be, has no such illusions about having already found what he seeks; Hugh Norman, a fifty-eight-year-old divorced professor of English, seems to have no idea what he is looking for.

At the start of the novel, Norman’s daughter Emily has left her husband, Terry Foley, and taken her children from Vancouver to St. John’s, to live with Norman until she finds her feet. Foley, Norman’s former student and “sometime drinking buddy,” follows Emily to St. John’s, apparently intending to use Norman as a go-between in his quest to reconcile. Soon, however, it becomes apparent that the circumstances around Emily’s leaving have less to do with Foley’s marital infidelities, and more to do with an unresolved crime that Emily may or may not have committed back home in Vancouver.

Norman’s academic obsession is the writing of an obscure Oblate priest, Alphonsus Ignatius Cleary, who, having published four novels “which could never make it onto a university syllabus […] because they can’t be used to illustrate some grand Canadian theme or other,” disappeared in 1985 “under suspicious circumstances.” His body was never found. Cleary’s greatest distinction (aside from being almost universally unread) is to have been “that rarest of species, a Newfoundlander who loathed Newfoundland and chose to live elsewhere.”

Added to this is the subplot of a burgeoning romance between Norman and Maureen, former colleague, ex-lover, and author of Liza Speaks Her Mind—a poetry collection comprising monologues in the voice of the character Liza from the song “I’se the B’y.” The Liza collection is Maureen’s attempt to portray “the nineteenth-century Newfoundland woman from a serious feminist perspective.” Each poem, as Norman puts it, has Liza “describing some incident from daily life glossed with appropriate feminist commonplaces.” And while the satire here is not very effective, on account of its descriptive vagueness (what exactly is an “appropriate feminist commonplace”?), there is a funny parody of Margaret Atwood’s heavily anthologized hook and eye poem.

Elsewhere, Mathews skewers the world of academe, at one point describing an “eminently acceptable” Ph. D. thesis as “the standard combination of sophistication and tunnel-visioned gullibility that passes for intellectual achievement, the whole enterprise surrounded by an aura of not-really-mattering.” Departmental politics also come in for a drubbing, with Mathews subtly mocking the internal workings of workplace societies, in the university’s ivory tower and beyond.

As the novel progresses, Norman (somewhat unwittingly) comes closer and closer to uncovering the circumstances surrounding the Oblate novelist’s apparent death, he and Maureen slowly rebuild the intimacy of their former romance, Emily is further implicated in the aforementioned west coast crime, and Foley generally makes an ass of himself.

Throughout, Norman remains caustically humorous, endearingly self-deprecating, and often painfully introspective. (He seems doomed to remain an outsider in his adopted province, despite the fact he has lived there for eighteen years.) Mathews makes him say some pretty funny things in service of comedy, but he is also capable of creating the kind of touching moment that results when, for instance, Norman observes his grandson playing soccer rather badly, “his skinny legs pumping ludicrously in the general direction of manhood.”

It is moments like these that push The Artificial Newfoundlander beyond light satire and into deeper cultural commentary, but on the whole, the book comes up short in that respect. It’s a funny and highly entertaining novel, but it doesn’t quite manage the trick of Mathews’ short stories, whose characters manage to be both clowns and, almost in spite of themselves, seers.

I’se the B’y

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