The following is my favorite ON THE BRICKS review, written by Goodreads user Mel. If I die before her, I really hope she writes my obituary.
Okay, so for a while here in Canada, there was this show on OUTtv called Sex and Violence, all about (fictional) social workers and their clients–mostly women but sometimes men fleeing from abusive situations–and the halfway houses those clients lived in, and the people who ran them. And it was generally good, okay, it was realistic and unflinching and it told its stories with tremendous humanity, from all sides.
Increasingly–I mean it was always thus with this show, but then increasingly–there were buckets of wieners; tons of wieners; piles of wieners. Not out of context, I’m not saying that, just, whether it was rape or murder or kidnapping or slavery or whatever, sooner or later there’d be at least one sexy young hardbody just standing around, wiener akimbo.
And the thing of it was, in order to make this titillating, oftentimes even the ugliest, most violent scenes were presented in a sexy sort of way. Not in the WHAMMO! jarring way where you were feeling sexy but now it’s ruined–for effect, like–but more like “We don’t think you’d be watching this program if you didn’t get to see you some spray-tanned wieners.”
But I wasn’t watching it for the wieners, okay, they were nice enough in their way but mostly I was in it for Olympia Dukakis’s boozy, kung fu fighting, sex-positive, octogenarian wig enthusiast.
(And the storytelling.)
And okay, so like sometimes you have this friend whose ritual Airing o’ the Grievances feels a little bit silly to you, you know, the world is crumbling into dust all around you and she’s like “I didn’t hear that guy who plays the harmonica outside Falafel Magic tell me to smile till I’d already passed him, so I didn’t smile, and now I’m being targeted for harassment by the entire homeless population of British Columbia.”
And you’re like Kim, there’s people that are dying.
And so then you read Penni Jones’s On the Bricks, and you take in the halfway house, the crack house, the junkies, the jailbirds, the abusers and the abused, broken people breaking other people, rich people, poor people, everybody fudging up every which way, ugliness on top of ugliness, half of it’s pancake breakfasts and the other half’s hot, smelly punches in the baby factory, you too could be a loser, and she doesn’t fall back on sexy sexiness to try to hold your attention, doesn’t use melodrama to jerk your tears, doesn’t pigeonhole people with their behaviour, good or bad…
It’s a big, broad, wretched story, for everyone involved, but she just… tells it. Spare and matter-of-fact, making no excuses, offering no answers, trusting the reader to draw his own conclusions.
It could’ve been gross, okay, it could’ve been schmaltzy, swelling orchestra, oozing tears, rending garments, clutching your Prayer Cross gross, a run-of-the-mill fairy tale of redemption in which everyone gets what they deserve, whatever that may be, and the heroine smiles triumphantly through eyes shining with righteousness, certain of her bright future.
Instead it’s honest without getting smurfy about it, no wisecracking antiheroine–saints preserve us from the GD wisecracking antiheroine, staaaaaahp. It’s a bunch of people who were maybe born into bad luck, maybe brought it on themselves, maybe devolved into misery over time. Whichever, here are the cruddy things that happened to them as a result, and here is what they did about it.
No quirky neighbour, no puppy stealing your ice cream cone, no Motown dance montage, just folks, doing the best they can with what they have, and sometimes the best they can is pretty lousy, but whatever, man, that’s life. We all fall down.
There are some wieners. I’m not gonna lie. But they’re contextual wieners. The importance cannot be overstated.