A Pleasant Surprise…

I spent all of last night (a Friday, mind you) reading all 288 pages of Buffalo Lockjaw by Greg Ames. We’ve had it at Borders for a while and have consistently sold out of it mainly because Ames spent the first 25-ish years of his life in Buffalo and most of his 20’s meandering the Elmwood strip with other struggling artists until he decided to move to New York City.

I’m always skeptical to read books based heavily on the author’s hometown (even if I’m familiar with the locale i.e. Buffalo) because books like that often end up sounding like either a.) tourism brochures for a dying post-industrial city or b.) an endless string of inside jokes that readers don’t get. I, however, decided to take a chance on the book because Ames is on the cover of Artvoice this week (and their recommendations are usually pretty solid) and he is doing a reading/signing at Borders this Thursday (April 9) at 7pm, and I didn’t want to look like an idiot when he showed up and I had to greet him.

To my surprise, Buffalo Lockjaw, was a completely different kind of novel. I hate to be cliche and call it a “coming of age story” because while it is, it’s so much more. It such an impressive work, especially since it’s Ames‘ first foray into the novel as a literary medium. It’s a book about life, about coming home again, about family, friends, and difficult decisions.

The novel follows James Fitzroy, a Buffalo native who has moved to New York City to, inevitably, write the insides of greeting cards. James returns to Buffalo for Thanksgiving weekend, and that’s where the action of the book commences. The book doesn’t rely on local landmarks like the Albright-Knox, Elmwood bars, or Allentown, you don’t need to know these places to enjoy the book, it relies on having at least an ounce of humanity pumping through your blood.

James comes home to a family who has always seen him as a rebellious, ungrateful drunk, and a mother who, due to a degenerative brain illness, is in full-on dementia at the young age of 56. It’s about James coming to grips with his family (read: they really do love him), his hometown (read: he really does love it), and his mother’s illness (read: should he fulfill her suicide wish? and he should have appreciated her more when she knew who he was).

Despite its subject matter this books isn’t poignant or touching, in fact, for 85% of the novel James is a really unlikeable, selfish narrator, but it still made me cry. It is not one of those tear-jerking Nicholas Sparks romance/fantasy life fodder novels, it’s real. It’s not sugarcoated, it’s unadulterated life in its rawest, unpasteurized form. In the mere 12 hours it’s been since I’ve finished it, it’s become one of my favorite novels.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the cover is a mug of beer with the foam turning into a Buffalo blizzard.

I’m not sure how widely available the book is nationally, but if your bookstore has it, definitely pick it up. It was one of the only books I’ve read in a long, long time that I actually feel comfortable recommending to people. I can’t wait to meet Greg Ames on Thursday.

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