STUNT by Claudia Dey (Coach House), 200 pages, $19.95 paper. Rating: NNNN
Reading stunt is like arriving at a buffet where every dish on the table is unusual, made with oddly paired ingredients, but tastes delicious. For days afterwards you can’t stop thinking about it, and plain food lacks a certain thrill.
Acclaimed Canadian playwright Claudia Dey’s first novel is a celebration of the bizarre and a triumph of literary invention. Witty, fascinating and well crafted, Stunt is a mad world all its own.
Each sentence seems stranger than the last, yet somehow it works. Unless you like your text bare and your whimsy minimal, you’ll want to keep reading. Wedding dresses are exhausted swans, pain wears a pressed suit, Toronto buildings are as big as the first computers. Best of all, Dey’s incredibly funny.
The story itself is not unusual. Nine-year-old Eugenia is abandoned by father, left with selfish mom and weird sister Immaculata. There are elements of magical realism: the girls double in age overnight; their father sends postcards from outer space.
Sometimes Eugenia speaks like a wry, 45-year-old poet, smarter than her flaky father, but there is charm in her ability to be both wise and innocent.
She bears some resemblance to the narrator of Heather O’Neill’s Lullabies For Little Criminals, with that same cross of harsh reality and endless imagination, and the same wonderfully addictive point of view.
Parkdale is described in hilarious detail, with a cast of charming eccentrics like Leopold of the Onions and Tuberculosis Flo. When Eugenia’s mother, the aging actor Mink, leaves home, Mr. and Mrs. Next Door, the funniest of the side characters, take over the house, and the girls, now 18, leave on a quest to find their father, the most eccentric of them all.
Stunt is a stunning accomplishment. You won’t want to it put down.