Review: Act Normal by Greg Hollingshead

Class Act

ACT NORMAL by Greg Hollingshead (Anansi), 226 pages, $19.95 paper. Rating: NNN

I love the fact that Greg Hollingshead has titled his new story collection Act Normal. The sly author knows perfectly well that ordinary people do not figure prominently in the book, and when they very occasionally do, reality forces them to make extraordinary choices.

In Wing Night, devoted researcher Derek has to figure out how to handle a drunken Russian who wants to exploit his mentor, and lets a severed hand advise him. An otherwise ineffectual man defies the town council by making friends with the hoods who run the crack house across the street in The Drug-Friendly House. And Fist Fight At The Orgy (one of many titles that don’t really reflect the story) features a man settling for the sister of his major teen crush decades later.

While many of these stories have a playful sensibility, Hollingshead writes about relationships with startling directness. His sleek story about a lesbian relationship gone awry because one lover is too clingy is very sharp. And The Force Of The World, in which a boy loses at least some of his illusions in the wake of Hurricane Hazel, is surprisingly compassionate given Hollingshead’s signature wryness.

Mining his astute observational skills, Hollingshead writes with a clear-eyed awareness of the human foibles that can make a mess of the world.

However, I’m not one of those readers who admire his tendency to shake up the short story form by ending many of his in the middle of things. I know life’s not very tidy, but this habit just makes me feel like he doesn’t know how to finish.

Hollingshead launches Act Normal on Thursday (September 3) at District Oven. See Readings. | @susangcole

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