Welfare Wednesdays: By Chris Walter, 265 pgs. By Todd Taylor

Jun 04, 2007

Punk rock pulp, in the traditional sense.

Set in the crabs-ridden crotch of Canada, the East Side of Vancouver, Welfare Wednesdays follows the lives of two characters, Jack and Lucy. At its core, it’s basically a novel about the Id. Impulse drives almost every course of action by every character and scenario in the novel—from a raging ex-boyfriend, hanging himself on the twin spires of revenge and gambling, to a docile co-worker who hauls off and hits his boss. It’s no more apparent than in the lead characters, who seem almost incapable of looking past their next government check (thus the title of the book) or their next paycheck. The book becomes more and more crack-fueled as the pages turn.

Walter definitely has a great sense of pace, can fill a setting, and has a consistent tone. He had definitely learned a lot of lessons, before this, his eleventh book. Welfare Wednesdays is a quick and engaging read, no doubt. Walter has no fear of talking about shit and piss and blood and zitty ugliness while—at least once in awhile—providing human glimmers of reflection and hope (with occasional forays into an almost child-like fancying of society’s underbelly). Welfare Wednesdays is also, definitely, a no-holds-barred look into drug addiction that neither outright condemns nor needlessly glamorizes the lifestyle, which is tough to pull off.

Although I wouldn’t call him a hack (which he, in a thinly veiled way, calls himself in his own book), Walter does rely on time-tested writing formulas (thus the pulpiness feel) and there are more than a fair share of clichés that I’d prefer were cut back. Somewhat surprisingly, Walter doesn’t seem to have a lot of faith that his readers hear him the first time when he mentions something. He seems intent on us never forgetting how short a skirt is, that Jack spray painted his sneakers black for office work, that Lucy lands on Jack’s balls when they first meet, or other conspicuous repetitions. And it’s here—due to the idea of providing a reality-scape told in a sparse, no-bullshit, non-fancy style—where Walter could use some restraint. With folks like Charles Willeford (Cockfighter), Chester Himes (If He Hollers, Let Him Go), and Steinbeck (Tortilla Flat), not only were those writers’ works easy to understand, they were lean; pruned right to the part where a story can still flower (even if that flower is planted in puke- and piss-soaked soil) without excess verbiage. I wouldn’t call Walter a sloppy writer; I’m just saying if he sharpened his razor more, his strokes would be more sure and he wouldn’t feel compelled to cover the same areas again and again. In summation: a fast, compelling book told by a wizened veteran honing his chops. Good stuff. –Todd (GFY Press, www.punkbooks.com)

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