March’s Recommended Read of the Month: The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes

Mass shootings. Internet memes. Online stalkers. Twitter wars. This book has a finger on the pulse, and a skewer through our zeitgeist.

Wanda Jaynes’ struggle to find coconut milk in Dominion quickly becomes a fight for her life, when she finds herself at the centre of a mass shooting in her neighbourhood grocery store. Not even thinking, she flings her can of coconut milk at the shooter and lays him out cold. It’s caught on camera and she’s crowned a hero worldwide: millions of YouTube watches, dozens of memes, offers of free pizza for life, requests for her to run columns, be on American TV shows.

She hates it. Doesn’t want any of it. Can’t even drive because of her PTSD, and yet the world is telling her who she is and how to react, and it’s overwhelming, and it’s alarmingly accurate in its depiction of how we can lose control of our own narratives and public image in today’s online world.

Wanda’s friends, father, and boyfriend on the other hand, they’re getting off on her newfound fame. Her boyfriend is obsessed with Googling the daily “climate around her” of what people are saying, and one friend wants to mooch off knowing Wanda by making her the centre of her latest “Art Project.”

The world wants a hero, but our hero just wants to move on, or be heard, that she didn’t see a moment to shine for all of humanity, she just threw a can without thinking. Because she was terrified. Because she was watching people die. But in this era of social media, it’s not up to us why we did something.

That’s the main plot. Woven into it are several subplots and themes, including a well-rendered mystery, the conundrums of romantic relationships, the familiar follies of family life, and the forced relationships of co-workers.

It’s not natural for a debut to be this perfect. The writing is electric, precise, and witty. Her character development is profound. Every character in this book shines and lifts vivid and convincing on the page. Even the smaller roles. There’s a neighbour we see every 25 pages or so, for a line, and yet we all know this person perfectly well. Few writers can balance humour and drama so perfectly. Or capture our zeitgeist and topical issues so un-heavy-handedly. This is a novel packed full of wit, memorable characters, exceptional writing, and a topical skewering of life in the now, where a very public act of panicking and tossing a can of coconut milk can change everything.

That sounds like serious subject matter, and it is. But in Bridget Canning’s capable hands, this is also a highly hilarious and very relatable read, and an accurate portrayal of our loss of boundaries between our public and private lives. If you want a little more snap, crackle, and pop in your next read, pick up this firecracker of a book.