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Dreary, winter-bound Buffalo, N.Y., is as much a character as any of the slackers populating Ames's darkly humorous debut about a young man with a copy of Suicide for Dummies in his car and a 56-year-old mother with Alzheimer's who he believes wants to die. James, 28, fled hometown stasis in the mid-'90s for Manhattan, where he writes greeting card verse for Kwality Kards. Back home at Thanksgiving to visit his mother in a nursing home, he reconnects awkwardly with old friends who hail his supposed big-city success. His family isn't as awestruck. Father Rodney, a solid citizen rooted in country club bonhomie, laments his son's lack of discipline, and his lesbian sister, Kate, a physical therapist visiting with her girlfriend from Oregon, mocks her brother's career path. Both evade his oblique references to euthanasia-the real reason for his return. Ames's depiction of James's bedside concern for his mother straddles the line between caustically comic and wrenchingly emotional, while the wry riffs on family tension and the sad state of Buffalo that appear throughout this fine first novel don't undercut the serious consideration of murder or mercy for terminal patients. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Posted March 21, 2009
Buffalo Lockjaw is a debut written with as much honesty and tenderness as James Fitzroy, the well intentioned if misguided main character, possesses. At fifty-six James's mother is a resident at The Elms suffering through Alzheimer's, a disease that she was once a respected, scholarly authority on. Now, with Ellen's mental and physical capabilities barely existent, James is rushing headlong into the only viable solution he sees, and is hell-bent on garnering support from his devastated father and preoccupied sister. Yet, instead of retreating to the familiar bars that he first visited with a fake I.D. at 18, James is now determined to be fully present, to be his mother's helpful son, at last.
About much more than a son coping with his mother's illness, Buffalo Lockjaw is a novel immortalizing Ellen as James remembers her. By looking through her belongings and reading her letters and documents, James's account becomes one less about the way Ellen is in The Elms' D-Unit and more about the way she was as a mother, professional nurse and wife. This is also James's coming-of-age journal, a text about his passage from selfishness to selflessness, from immaturity to maturity. It's a touching story about family, love, death, courage, duty and, eventually, acting your age. Written with humor, sadness, and compassion Buffalo Lockjaw grips the reader with a bulldog's tenacity until it punctures through knee-jerk immaturity and into a mindful, deeper resolution. Ames takes the reader into the heart of James's central conflict and delivers a story told with smart, gritty humor that, at the turn of a page, changes to tender, honest descriptions of the Fitzroy family's lost wife and mother, Buffalo, NY's people, and its history as a once-booming city.
Decades past its prime, Buffalo is a city in decline, one of many examples of progress's unswerving march toward new territories and industries. Ames brings the city into sharp focus as much more than just the book's setting through clever use of brief, first person narratives sprinkled throughout the novel. These chapters - composed from a well-intentioned, ultimately damned two-year ethnographic foray on James's part - give a humorous, tangible sense of loss and nostalgia for a bigger, better Buffalo while providing just the right amount of levity to the main story's seriousness. Always memorable and entertaining, James's Buffalo experts reminisce about everything from their town's healthy past, to the Bills, to the faltering local art and music scenes.
In its simple complexities, Buffalo Lockjaw achieves what every good story should, standing on its own as a novel as resolute and sharp as Ellen's mind once was, and as honest and raw as Ames's talented, poignant writing. A book about everything that makes life painful, funny, frustrating, beautiful and worth remembering, readers will root for James, hoping he'll make decisions that will lead to a happy ending - a full, miraculous recovery for Ellen, or a peaceful, smiling death - knowing all the while that life's real endings are rarely ever so. Resting at the center of the story, the true narrative of all experiences, whether James Fitzroy's or the reader's own, is the common bit of humanity that keeps us each humble and good even when beauty and happiness are buried far beneath the snows of a merciless Buffalo winter.
-The Aquarian Weekly
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Posted October 13, 2010
Review of Buffalo Lockjaw
My father was born in Buffalo in 1915, my mother from Aurora in central New York on Cayuga Lake. As a child growing up in Buffalo in the 60's and 70's, I experienced contradictions. I lived in a freezing, harsh environment with a loving, supportive family. Buffalo is a city that was prominent at the turn of the 20th century until the steel and chemical companies that built that prosperity proceeded to contaminate Lake Erie with its industrial waste. When the authorities instituted pollution controls, those industries abandoned Buffalo and its blue collar workers, leaving it in a desperate economic mess.
Buffalo Lockjaw is a story which takes place in this declining town. It's about a writer coming to terms with changes in his life, and specifically dealing with his mother's Alzheimers disease. Ames is an amazing writer, vividly depicting his mother's condition so that although she speaks only a few words, she becomes a main character of the book. The book portrays a man devoted to his parents and his family home, his friends and his city.
Many of the passages resonated for me, but I was particularly impressed with the ending, which Ames elevates. Some of the most memorable images: The snow looking like rhinos, patting his father's bald head, watching his aunts sitting together under harsh lighting.
The writing is absolutely first rate. Greg Ames is a masterful writer. Excellent book.
Posted August 22, 2009
This was as easy to read as the Buffalo News, and was just as terse. The home-town atmosphere was present throughout. I grew up there, too. But I wanted MORE, and I felt that this author could have delivered it, but was short on time, or was edited harshly, who knows. Or he's as limited as the characters in the book, but the subject matter didn't suggest that.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 2, 2009
James Fitzroy is a man on a mission: to kill his mother. He is not a diabolical man, he loves is mother. He's not an assassin; he doesn't want her to suffer. He has a vague idea of who he is, his mother does not. Fifty-six year old Ellen Fitzroy, who spent a lifetime researching dementia, now lives in a nursing home, unable to care for herself, suffering from the effects of advanced Alzheimer's disease.
Greg Ames boldly has chosen euthanasia, a difficult topic filled with internal and external conflicts, for his debut novel and set it in the cold winter of Buffalo, New York, a town which seems to have as much of an identity crisis as Ellen.
James arrives at his mother's bedside just in time to help her celebrate Thanksgiving. His father, who visits Ellen every day and sister show up shortly there after. This isn't the holiday of James' childhood. James recognizes what everyone around him fails to see, Ellen is suffering a fate she never wanted to suffer, she wanted to die with dignity and now even that has been taken away from her.
As James wrestles with the idea of helping his mother die, he makes contact with friends of his passed that are stuck in Buffalo, both literally, figuratively, and as a mindset, and as he drives through Buffalo, the past is never as far away as he once thought it was.
I did not find Mr. Ames' novel "darkly comic" as blurbed on its back cover, but rather a well written, easy read. And that's about as much as can be said about it. While reading it, I felt a tangential connection to the characters, but I never really got to know them, and in that respect it was unsatisfying, I wanted to dig deeper into these characters. There was no ratcheting up of the plot, aside from Ellen's life, which as for all intents and purposes already ended; there is nothing at stake for James.
In the novel's conclusion, Mr. Ames took the easy way out, Ellen is dead, and James did not kill her. It is an anticlimax that left me feeling nothing but the satisfaction of having finished reading the book.
Posted June 22, 2009
Anyone from Buffalo NY should find this book interesting. The title concept strikes to the heart of what Buffalo can be like. In the beginning, I thought it might be too much on social commentary and trying to connect too much with the local landscape. However, Ames does a wonderful job weaving local culture and embodies local struggles in which all readers can relate. It's a nice story about the struggles of family and returning home.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 17, 2009
I have to say that I am biased as I was born and bred in Buffalo, NY. I luckily picked up this advanced reader copy and had no idea that my hometown was a major character in this book. Ames was on point with all his references of restaurants, bars, etc. I felt for James the main character,and what he was going through with his ill mother, disconnected father, and burn out associates. I would recommend this book to anyone who has lived in or is from Buffalo. You can definitely get the jist if you are not, but it makes more sense if you can relate to the places, faces, and the unique Western New York culture. Ames writing is descriptive, colorful, with a hint of sarcasm--but I think that is what I love the most!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 16, 2009
A difficult subject told from the viewpoint of a young man within the context of his life. I'm surprised that I definitely liked the book. A ramrod-straight father, an underachieving self-medicating son are not normally such vulnerable characters. For some odd reason, this felt more like a memoir than a work of fiction.<BR/><BR/>I'll definitely be checking to see what others thought of this book. Meanwhile, I think I'll hang on to this one for a little while.<BR/><BR/>For those that like to know ahead of time: indiscriminate promiscuity, casual drug/alcohol abuse, story-appropriate use of f-word, exploration of patient-assisted euthanasia.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 25, 2011
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