Buffalo Lockjaw, by Greg Ames

Buffalo Lockjaw, by Greg Ames

Title: Buffalo Lockjaw
Author: Greg Ames
Pages: 304
Publisher: Hyperion
Copyright: 2009
Format: Paperback
Rating: [rating:3]


I received this book for free from the publisher. All content and opinions are my own.

This book hits the bookstores tomorrow, so be sure to check it out. I read this book for Gayle’s book club over at Everyday I Write the Book Blog. The official discussion will begin there on Wednesday, April 1st.

James Fitzroy left Buffalo, his hometown, to make his fortune in New York City. His success has been rather tepid – he writes greeting cards – but his friends and family back in Buffalo believe he’s making it big. Back in Buffalo for Thanksgiving, James is faced with his old friends who seem to be stuck in time, his relatively young mother suffering from dementia in a nursing home, his grieving father selling the family home to pay for medical bills, and his successful absentee sister and her girlfriend. James is tormented by his mother’s fate, especially since she was a nurse in favor of assisted suicide.

The protagonist James, is not the most lovable character. In fact, half of the time I hated him and the other half of the time I sort of felt sorry for him. Still, he seemed real. He has flaws. Lots of flaws. But they are real flaws. He’s selfish and makes rather stupid mistakes, but he cares for his family. The characterization of James as a whole was deftly done, though I wish some of the other characters were a little rounder – in particular James’s father and sister.

I loved the layers in this book. There is, of course, James’s story as he copes with his hometown over the holidays. And, always, always in the background there is this turmoil over his deteriorating mother and the possibility of assisted suicide. And then there is the decline of Buffalo. I loved the technique the author used of interspersing short oral histories of Buffalo residents with the rest of the story. It added a layer of history and a sort of timelessness that otherwise would have been lacking. Though I loved that Ames tried to intersperse these layers, it felt like there was a little too much going on. A lot of the story lines felt incomplete and underdeveloped.

The writing was bleak and masculine. Here’s a sample from the beginning where James talks about his short career as an urban ethnographer:

I park my rental car outside The Elms and sit without moving, hands resting on the steering wheel, for almost half an hour.  I’m listening to a CD I burned six years ago.  In my early twenties I wanted to document the story of my hometown the way Studs Terkel had tackled labor in American, but I abandoned the project, like everything else I ever started, about halfway through.  For two years I carried a digital voice recorder in the back pocket of my jeans.  Calling myself an urban ethnographer, I conducted over a hundred interviews with drunks in dive bars, blue-collar kids who grew up near Buffalo’s abandoned factories, artists and musicians and athletes who would never become famous, and an array of local jokers and knuckleheads.  I was not interested in hearing from the winners, I thought.  At that time I had a pretty loose definition of what winning meant, but I’m sure it involved easy wealth and unwarranted prestige.  I was a reverse snob.

The tone and James’s character tended to keep me removed from the characters and the action, but I still enjoyed the story.  In all, this was an interesting and contemplative look at a declining family and town.

Check out the discussion guide here.

Buffalo Lockjaw, by Greg Ames [rating:3]