THE WITHDRAWAL METHOD by Pasha Malla (House of Anansi), 256 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNN
Pasha Malla’s first book of stories features myriad characters with a tendency to withdraw, quietly hiding away in their grief, frustration, boredom or inability to act. Still, the stories don’t suffer from the alone-with-my-inner-thoughts tedium that description might suggest.
Malla’s style is sharp and funny without being too gimmicky.
A handful of these mostly fast-moving stories feature boys and men negotiating the breakdown of romantic relationships.
In Respite, a couple who should be breaking up still need to stick around passive-aggressively tormenting each other. The boyfriend in question, a struggling novelist, starts volunteering as a respite caretaker for a young boy dying of a degenerative illness. The passages about his relationship with the boy brim with tender observations on happiness and purpose effectively juxtaposed with others about the ways we waste time tearing each other down in the day-to-day.
Malla is particularly adept at describing the complex emotional effects of terminal illness. When a loved one is dying, what happens to the one waiting to be left? In The Slough and Dizzy When You Look Down In, he offers some brutally honest perspectives.
Three of the strongest stories shine a light on the weird little worlds of children dealing with the temptations of an older world without entirely understanding the fucked-up things adults can get into. Despite his serious subjects – the death of a parent, rape, bullying – Malla manages to make us chuckle at the absurdity of life.
A few stories seem included only because of a clever idea and remain underdeveloped, like the final piece When Jacques Cousteau Gave Pablo Picasso a Piece of Black Coral.
On the whole, though, the collection is amusing and affecting, an accomplished first book by a writer to watch.
Malla reads Wednesday (May 28) at the Gladstone. See Readings.