Buffalo Lockjaw

( 8 )


James Fitzroy isn't doing so well. Though his old friends in Buffalo believe his life in New York City is a success, in fact he writes ridiculous taglines for a greeting card company. Now he's coming home on Thanksgiving to visit his aging father and dying mother, and unlike other holidays, he's not sure how this one is going to end. Buffalo Lockjaw introduces a fresh new voice in American fiction.
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James Fitzroy isn't doing so well. Though his old friends in Buffalo believe his life in New York City is a success, in fact he writes ridiculous taglines for a greeting card company. Now he's coming home on Thanksgiving to visit his aging father and dying mother, and unlike other holidays, he's not sure how this one is going to end. Buffalo Lockjaw introduces a fresh new voice in American fiction.
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Editorial Reviews

Poe Ballantine
"Greg Ames, one of the funniest writers I've ever read, faces dead-on the most terrifying event in a person's life. Buffalo Lockjaw is frightening, heart-rending, and beautiful. I pay it my highest compliment: I didn't want it to end."
Jonathan Ames
"Greg Ames has written a beautiful novel. It is infused with dark comedy and pathos and great, hardboiled prose. In Buffalo Lockjaw, love of one's parents and love of one's hometown mix powerfully with the mad undertow of loss that seems as inevitable in life as gravity. I'm honored to share a last name -- no relation -- with such a wonderful writer."
Adrienne Miller
"In Buffalo Lockjaw, Greg Ames manages to evoke place and expose the complexities of character in a single swift phrase. It is a funny-sad, heartbreaking, hypnotically readable debut."
Aimee Bender
"The voice of this novel invites you right in, and Ames knows how to build up the world with a light hand while still getting to the complicated and painful ways we muddle through. Funny and fresh and generous."
Sam Lipsyte
"Buffalo Lockjaw, like its charming, bitter screw-up of a narrator, reaches finally for larger meaning, and succeeds. Greg Ames has written a brazen and tender book about a city and a scene, a mother and a son, and the beauty and pain of several kinds of love."
Publishers Weekly

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.)

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Kirkus Reviews
In this beautifully observed debut, a son wrestles with the possibility of assisted suicide for his mother, stricken with Alzheimer's. Responsibility was the watchword for Ellen from the get-go. The oldest of five, she began taking care of her siblings when she was only ten; her otherworldly parents were in church. At 16, she decided to become a nurse; during her 30-year career, she wrote a successful nursing textbook. Now, still only 56, this good woman is a near-vegetable in a Buffalo, N.Y., nursing home, muttering nonsense words; her moments of lucidity are rare. Four years earlier, at the onset of her disease and understanding what lay ahead, she had confided in her son James that she was considering suicide; aghast, he had dissuaded her. But the 28-year-old, now trying gamely to connect with his mother, is having second thoughts. James, the narrator and protagonist, had left Buffalo for Brooklyn and a job writing greeting cards. Back home for Thanksgiving, he is thinking seriously about a mercy killing, but his father Rodney, a retired office manager, is dead set against the idea. Rodney is a stand-up guy, a stoic witness to his wife's condition (he visits every day) and a decent if uncommunicative father. James had been a rebel with a drinking problem and is only now settling into adulthood. His more self-confident sister Kate is also back for the holiday with her lesbian partner; family dynamics are all-important here. Ames skillfully counterpoints James's nursing-home visits with boozy reunions with old friends and sprinkles in interviews with Buffalo locals taken from an oral history James once compiled. These interviews highlight a strain of exuberant eccentricity in theotherwise dour city, and they provide bright splashes of narrative color. The satisfying and credible resolution, lightly foreshadowed, will come as a surprise. A novel about hard choices and doing the right thing that is modest, moving and true.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781401309800
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • Publication date: 3/31/2009
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 279,227
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Greg Ames
Greg Ames' stories have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007, Open City, McSweeney's, and other publications. He also received honorable mention in the 2003 Pushcart Prize Awards. He grew up in Buffalo, NY, and now lives in Brooklyn, and teaches Creative Writing at Brooklyn College.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Worth Remembering

    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.

    Andrea Seastrand
    -The Aquarian Weekly

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 13, 2010

    Highly Recommended

    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.

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  • Posted August 22, 2009

    Not a blizzard

    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.

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  • Posted August 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A Forgetable Summer Read

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2009

    Good read!

    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.

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  • Posted June 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I left my heart in the B-Low!

    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!

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  • Posted February 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Well-crafted handling of a difficult subject

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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