Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Gritty tales for gritty times from Andrew F. Sullivan

Andrew F. Sullivan

Andrew F. Sullivan

Title
All We Want Is Everything
Author
Andrew F. Sullivan
Genre
Fiction
Publisher
ARP Books
Pages
184
Price
$16.95

I don't entirely know what to say about this book. When I finished the last story, I felt like I needed to go out and get in a fistfight just to pay it its dues. It's a pretty spectacular thing. All We Want Is Everything is a slim book but it is jammed with stories that drip with guts, bodily emissions, and heartache, told by narrators who long for a real connection. The writing is a clean right hook that lands with precision.

The characters do want everything, and in most pieces that means they want out – of the small towns clogged with birds that blacken the skies, off the plant floor with all of their limbs intact, out of the high-rise next to the sinkhole. They want to die a perfect coward's death as their cars sink below the water because it's the only way to pay off gambling debts. They work hard at dead-end jobs that damage their bodies and often their psyches. Everyone knows how to take a punch, how to stall the cops, how to drink with ease. This might be the toughest book this year in Can Lit, but it isn't pointless or posturing machismo. I kind of want to give it a trophy and then a bowl of soup and some band-aids.

Sullivan knows how to show the reader, via specific and gory sensory detail, the reality of his characters' situations. They are "elbow deep in dead pigeon"; young cousins overdose on chewable Flintstone vitamins at Christmas, puking "a hazy blur of purple and orange" behind the couch; their blood blisters "glow bright pink under the light"; their friends throw up fries and pick day-glo drug scabs in McDonald's bathrooms; they choke on air "filled with feathers and feces"; dead baby birds are "pink splatters" on front windshields. The townie girls giggle while someone spits blood in a drunk's face; they're in towns up north where the government ships discount body bags; they're cradling unwanted babies to sleep in snowbanks; they have brothers who aren't quite right and leave rabbit heads in the freezer. The boys wield hammers, baseball bats and weed whackers. Their fathers are absent, broken from wars, from lack of options, or dead from liver failure, mental illness, drowning. A son spends his inheritance on "hydroponic lamps and a tattoo of his dead dog Chuckles." The sons are raising themselves, and the girls aren't doing much better, clutching ultrasounds of their four-armed babies, abnormalities that come from working too close to the nuclear plant.

Story continues below advertisement

It would be bleak if it wasn't just life and if it didn't have heart, if it wasn't a deeply realistic portrait of Canada's underclass and working class in strikingly visual and controlled prose. It's a startling debut by one of my new favourite writers whose promise is clear and future looks bright. Write his name down because hopefully he's going to be a big deal.

Zoe Whittall's most recent novel is Holding Still for as Long as Possible. She is a frequent contributor to Globe Books.

Report an error
Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.