PLEASED TO MEET YOU by Caroline Adderson (Thomas Allen), 204 pages, $24.95 paper. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
Caroline Adderson's second short story collection, Pleased To Meet You, is a sardonic, bulletproof literary achievement that examines the lives of the angry and misunderstood.
In this collection (her first, Bad Imaginings, was shortlisted for a GG and earned the Ethel Wilson Prize for best BC book in 1993), Adderson frequently uses the metaphor of physical deterioration to emphasize the vulnerability of the less humane (read downright cruel) characters.
Spleenless, for example, finds a prickish photographer at his ex-wife's house ringing in the new millennium by examining his many regrets. In Mr. Justice, the patriarch of a family of underachievers loses his leg in bizarre circumstances while rejoicing in the fact that he has also severed his connection to his family.
Adderson explores the various ways we force ourselves to inflict and submit to loss. In the story Hausaka Tutustua (which means "pleased to meet you" in Swedish), a heartbroken widower moves into a hotel to avoid witnessing the blooming of his dead wife's rhododendrons. Complex and varied in its study of the permutations of grief, anger and frustration, Adderson's taut prose excludes sentimentality and yet creates characters whose interior worlds teem with emotion.
It is Adderson's curious combination of disdain and sympathy for her characters - many of whom are hateful - that makes Pleased To Meet You an incredibly humorous read. The language veers from the grotesque to the gentle, creating startling juxtapostions and images. A child's heart is a live toad, for example. The same child, in the final lines of the story, shits glittery Christmas stars, convincing his surrogate mother that he's a miracle.
One caveat: those looking for easy redemptions won't find them in this collection, but sophisticated readers will find Adderson's cruelly tender style both rich and readable.
Adderson takes part in a round table October 26 and reads October 28.