Tetanus. Greg Ames’ debut novel, Buffalo Lockjaw, describes the holiday return of 24-year-old protagonist James to hometown Buffalo from his new life in Brooklyn writing copy for a greeting card company. Ames seems to have followed the advice of many creative writing teachers to write about what you know. He’s probably given that advice to others, since Ames is a creative writing teacher at Brooklyn College. Ames knows Buffalo, and presents the struggles and quirks of that place with mastery in this novel. In many respects, Buffalo is the best developed character in the book. James is both naïve and immature, and in grief over his mother’s Alzheimer’s disease he explores euthanasia as a way to give her what he thinks she wants. His stoic father, from whose expression Ames chose his book title, has sold the family home and struggles to pay for his wife’s care. James’ lesbian sister and her partner arrived for Thanksgiving from Oregon to announce her pregnancy. On top of this mix of main characters, James revisits Buffalo friends and finds them in various states of dissolution, not unlike the city. I had the sense in reading Buffalo Lockjaw that Ames had assembled vignettes about the city and some characters and then pasted this novel together with that old material. In a clever way, he interspersed among the novel’s chapters the text of audio interviews that James did with quintessential Buffalo characters. Anyone with a particular connection to Buffalo will find a lot to enjoy in this novel. Readers willing to give a chance to a first-time author will also find some good writing on these pages. Critical readers are likely to find ample faults with characters, plot and dialogue to have preferred a tetanus shot rather than spend time reading Buffalo Lockjaw.
Rating: Two-star (Mildly Recommended)