MILOSZ by Cordelia Strube (Coach House), 297 pages, $19.95 paper. Rating: NNN
Cordelia Strube never makes it easy for her readers. Most of the time you want to shake her characters, especially her central male figures.
So it goes with Strube's pain-in-the-ass protagonist, Milosz, who prefers to be called Milo - the non-Polish version of his name - in this sometimes very funny novel.
Milo's just been dumped by his girlfriend, who accuses him of coasting. No kidding. The sometimes actor moonlights as a junk remover for his friend Wallace in between auditions he can't help but blow.
He has a crush on Tanis, the woman next door, whose husband has walked out and who's struggling with her autistic son Robertson. Milo, who does connect to the young boy, steps in to help in all the wrong ways.
In the meantime, Wallace has moved into Milo's house with his mother, who's visiting from the UK; chick magnet Pablo, who has nowhere to go after his girlfriend leaves him, has also invaded; and Milo's abusive father, Gus, has disappeared, only to turn up on a reality show in a retirement home.
Strube juggles these multiple storylines with considerable skill and in the process delivers some savvy satire, especially when Milo appeals to the reality show producers to help him find his father, only to get roped into being on the program.
And she expertly portrays Milo as the personification of ambivalence - toward his father, his acting career, his friends.
But she tries to do way too much. A sequence where Milo finds himself lost in the bush while trying to get a gig with an experimental theatre company takes up too much space.
But Strube demonstrates a rare fearlessness in her insistence on giving us characters who aren't likeable but are very real. These are people dealing with life's essential challenges - lost love, intransigent parents - with what little emotional intelligence they have.
Strube reads from Milosz on Tuesday (September 11) at Taylor Memorial Library. See listing.
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