Uptown unlocks the mysteries of The Milk Chicken Bomb

By Quentin Mills-Fenn
Uptown
September 13, 2007

From lyrics to prose

Hot Little Rocket frontman's first novel a look into small-town Alberta

Quentin Mills-Fenn

The Milk Chicken Bomb is a secret. It's a weapon whose mysteries are known to very few.

It's also the title of the deceptively ambitious new book by Andrew Wedderburn, of the Calgary band Hot Little Rocket. With his first novel, Wedderburn has created a portrait of small-town Alberta, a place where the usual assortment of small-town eccentrics conceal the existence of what might be deeper story.

The narrator of Wedderburn's book is unnamed; everyone seems to call him The Kid. He and his best friend, Mullen, have a lemonade stand. Every day before school they work it, even in winter.

That's not the only off-centre feature of Marvin, Alta. The Russians from the meat-packing plant are nearly-unbeatable curlers. People say the whole town is connected by underground tunnels. Town loser Deke Howitz needs a bank loan to buy a black-market submarine, so he's got a business card that reads "Davis Howe Oceanography, Davis Howe CEO." ("All I'm saying is that Davis Howe is a lot more likely to get $400,000 from the bank than Deke Howitz. When you got a name like Deke Howitz, everybody just thinks you're some hillbilly.") When they're not selling lemonade, Mullen and The Kid get into some scraps: Mullen gets the neighbourhood kids to bet on the outcome of curling bonspiels, for instance. All-in-all, an entertaining view of a quirky small town.

It's what's missing that's really significant. Where are The Kid's parents? Why is a 10-year-old allowed to wander at night? Why is he so eager to trade his store-bought pizza pops for homemade sandwiches? Why does he walk the highway out of town late at night? What is he running away from? And why does he have trouble sleeping?

Everyone in Marvin seems to know the answers to these questions but no one mentions them explicitly. Mullen's dad lets him sleep over and the Russians feed him. The waitress from the truck-stop drops him off back in town, but he won't let her drive him all the way home.

The people of Marvin know that Deke is crazy and they talk about why Mullen's geologist dad ended up working at a meat-packing plant, but no one talks about The Kid's situation. Whatever his situation is.

Wedderburn drops the odd hint in the novel but he refuses to reveal everything and that's what gives this novel its power. With The Milk Chicken Bomb, he demonstrates that mystery and darkness can exist and flourish even in small towns where everyone knows everyone else.

As for the Milk Chicken Bomb, The Kid first hears about it from an older kid. It is, he's told: "The worst thing. The very worst possible thing. I don't even like knowing about it. The Milk Chicken Bomb wrecks everything."

By the end of this surprisingly successful novel, The Kid and the Milk Chicken Bomb might be more intimately connected than anyone thinks.

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