Today is a red letter day for book lovers as Will Ferguson’s latest novel, The Shoe on the Roof, hits the bookstores. Given that his last novel, 419, won Canada’s most lucrative literary award, the Giller Prize, it is safe to say this is a highly anticipated book.
Ferguson’s reputation has established him as a humorist, so it goes without saying that this is a funny read. But I can’t quite pin down why. I think it is because Ferguson sees the humour in the everyday and the unlikely. After all, 419, was a look at the Nigerian email scam that brought to life some funny aspects of a scheme that has bilked thousands of people worldwide of millions of dollars, something that really isn’t funny.
The Shoe on the Roof will make you laugh and at the same time cause you to ask some important questions. It’s a look at how we as a society treat the mentally ill, at our views on child rearing, on faith and belief.
Imagine this: You break up with your girlfriend, or more correctly, she breaks up with you. You want her back, but what to do? Her brother whom she loves is in a mental institution, committed because he believes he is Jesus Christ. If you can cure him it will surely win her back. But how to do it?
For Thomas the answer is easy: convince the institution to release Sebastian into his care, where, along with two other self-confessed messiahs, he will be forced to confront his delusions head-on. What could possibly go wrong?
Can he cure Sebastian? What about the other two? Can he win the love of his psychiatrist father? Will Amy return to him? Who is killing the homeless in Boston?
Ferguson has a way of stringing words together that I really like. His dialogue rings true, and his descriptions bring a place alive. As someone who has tried his hand at fiction I know just how difficult it is to do those things well.
This is that rare book, one that manages to be both entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time. It addresses serious issues, but, leavened with humour, doesn’t come across as preachy. Ferguson asks the questions; it is up to you to provide the answers.