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Pickle Me This

May 26, 2008

Stunt by Claudia Dey

I’ve approached Claudia Dey’s novel Stunt so differently from the other books I read, and this has been the case from the very start. Because I must confess that I didn’t actually ever intend to read it. For though I admired it from afar, I like my realism, thank you very much. I didn’t really care to read about tightrope walkers, postcards from outer space and strange-named girls who age in a night. Until I heard Claudia Dey read from her novel, at the Fiery First Fiction fete just a few weeks back. And it occurred to me that my presuppositions were all wrong, and probably yours are too, because I don’t know that I’ve read encountered a book like this before.

Dey read from the beginning of her novel at the reading, and I was immediately entranced by her narrator’s perspective. So solidly fixed inside the head of this small strange person, noting her neighbour, “Mrs. Next Door”: “She matches her lawn ornaments. She walks like she is figure skating. She carries a first-aid kit. She is always calling out the time. Bath time. Suppertime. Homework time. She is the cuckoo bird of mothers…”

This narrator is Eugenia Ledoux, devoted daughter of Sheb Wooly Ledoux who disappears one night leaving a note that says, “gone to save the world/… sorry/ yours/ sheb wooly ledoux/ asshole”. He’s addressed it to her mother, to her sister, but Eugenia’s name isn’t there, and so clearly, she believes, he meant to take her with him. She’s waiting for him to come for her. Find me is her whisper.

And then, of course, her mother disappears, Eugenia and her sister double their ages in one night, Next-Door’s house burns down and there begins a perpetual lawn sale. Eugenia runs away to a houseboat on Ward’s Island, following clues towards her father’s whereabouts, which are contained in a library book, the unauthorized autobiography of a tightrope walker.

Naturally. I was explaining the plot today, and everyone looked confused, and somebody sought a label for it– “magical realism”? But no, not really, though there is magic magic and realism in abundance (all the detritus of the earth) but it’s not the right template. I really have no idea what to compare this to, but I can say that it works. That I think of the tightrope, hovering miles into the air, but how taut it is, how strong and sure. The strength and sureness key– you might call this book a bit of whimsy, but never has whimsy been so controlled, so calculated. The language is so fundamental. Every word, every sentence, every symbol in this book means something, and even the ones that don’t.

My approach to Stunt was different in that I couldn’t break the spell. I couldn’t make notes in the margins, think too much about connections, because I was reading. I couldn’t break this novel down into parts, because it would ruin everything, for now at least. No doubt the parts are essential, but right now the whole seems so complete.

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