HELLGOING by Lynn Coady (Astoria), 223 pages, $19.95 paper. Rating: NNNN
In this series of short stories, Lynn Coady, Giller short-lister for The Antagonist, crafts a series of disconcerting narratives featuring characters guaranteed to make readers uncomfortable.
In the opener, a delusional drunk thinks she's keeping it all together. In the title piece, a woman resents her brother for taking care of their dad. A less than diligent literary handler in Dogs In Clothes discovers a weakness in the author she's escorting to various media appearances.
Take This And Eat It features a nun working in a hospital who's forced to consider a sacrilegious solution to the problem of getting an anorexic patient to eat. The most challenging story stars an accident-prone masochist, and the most chilling involves a girl's strange relationship to her inaptly named teacher, Mr. Hope.
None of the stories is a perfectly structured gem, and some of them meander or end abruptly. Clear Skies, about a writers' retreat, is muddled, referencing a flight emergency in confusing ways.
But Coady's powers of observation are strong, and she has a knack for the telling phrase. When a poet's reading sounds completely unlike the poet speaking in real life, Coady calls it "the speaking voice in the writer's mind." She refers to a sudden sexual attraction as a woman's uterus shaking itself awake like a dog.
Whether she's listening in on jealous authors or tracing an ex-hippie's love relationship with a child-abuse survivor, Coady is determined to deliver decidedly unlikeable characters who, while navigating tough situations, often lack compassion to the point of self-centredness.
But that's the strength of these stories. They're told with disarming honesty.