Turnstone Press (2020)
By Andrew Unger
L really seemed to enjoy her latest book, Once Removed by Andrew Unger. She said it was “laugh-out-loud” funny, which I can certainly attest to, since her laughing woke me up from many enjoyable dog naps. (Anyone who has heard L laugh can relate!)
The book tells the hilarious story of Timothy Heppner, a struggling part-time ghostwriter and employee of the Parks and “Wreck” department in the fictional Mennonite town of Edenfeld, Manitoba. Edenfeld’s mayor, BLT Wiens, is determined to modernize the town, tearing down old heritage buildings, cutting down trees, renaming streets to entice a megamart to be built in the community. This leads to conflict between the mayor (and his supporters) and The Edenfeld Preservation Society, of which Timothy and his wife Katie are members. Timothy is caught between his two loyalties, wanting to preserve the beauty and heritage of his hometown and wanting to keep his job and paycheque. Things get even more complicated for Timothy when he is hired by the Edenfeld Preservation Society to write an updated version of the town's history book which draws the ire of his boss, the mayor who doesn’t want the town’s history preserved at all. How can Timothy please both sides and maintain his integrity?
Written with wit and humour, Unger paints a comical picture of a town and its residents caught between tradition and progress. Unger introduces us to some truly quirky characters such as Timothy’s best friend Randall, who brews large quantities beer in his garage but is “still clinging to his principles” by saving hand-holding for marriage, snippets of life in a small Mennonite town where husbands use the library computers to look up pictures of Mennonite women exposing their ankles while their wives browse “the bountiful collection of Crochet World,” and strange and hilarious Mennonite traditions, such as the annual autumn pig slaughter which “drew a big crowd…and there were games for the children to play that involved running around in circles pretending not to dance.”
It is clearly evident that this book is written with much tongue-in-cheek affection. Unger’s writing never crosses the line from humour into insult.
But for all its hilarity there is an underlying serious question posed by Unger: how do we preserve the old, while making way for the new? If you want the answer to that question, L says you have to read this book.
L’s verdict: Once Removed is a funny, clever, and endearing portrait of small town, Mennonite life and folks who are trying their best to get by under less-than-ideal circumstances, all the while keeping a good sense of humour about it—a much-needed reprieve from the year that has been 2020.
Bingley’s verdict: I lost quite a bit of sleep over this one, what with all of L’s laughing, but that must mean she liked it a lot!