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Pickle Me This

May 26, 2013

Canary by Nancy Jo Cullen

canaryNot the most succinct review, this one. I read Nancy Jo Cullen’s Canary for enjoyment rather than critical analysis, mostly because I’m 40.5 weeks pregnant, and who wants to analyze critically whilst crawling on the floor (and incidentally, I’m on my knees and elbows as I type this)? But the book left such an impression on me that I have to write about it. I loved these stories of families and volcanic eruptions, hitching rides and kissing cousins. In “Ashes”, a teenaged girl’s family falls apart while she and her dad are out practicing driving (and we meet the girl again decades later in the story “Eddie Truman”, whose links are subtle and touching). A marriage of convenience is the subject of “The 14th Week in Ordinary Time”, in which a gay holy roller takes up with a singer with a past she’s more than happy to escape. “Regina” begins with the line, “I wasn’t in love with the kleptomaniac but he was a good dresser” and it just goes from there. “Valerie’s Bush” is about a Brazilian wax and a rock through a window. “Canary” is one of a few stories about drivers and passengers, this one about an embarrassing mom chauffeuring her teenage son on a date. Another is “Passenger”, about a widower driving a teenage girl across the country as he grapples with the loss of his wife who has gone to a heaven he doesn’t believe in. In “Happy Birthday”, a woman flees her mother’s 83rd birthday party and her asshole of a partner, bolting to freedom. I loved “This Cold War” because I’ve got a thing for 1989. And oh my goodness, “Big Fat Beautiful You”, what a powerful way to finish this collection, connecting past and present, as a middle-aged woman testifies to who her sister was and who she is now: “Caroline is like one of the comets that travel fast enough to enter and leave the solar system with almost no attention. I guess I am the witness who noticed the collision and subsequent disintegration of the marvellous light.” A story like a Bruce Springsteen song, if Springsteen were a woman–I love that. There is humour here, engrossing narrative, and wonderful, wonderful writing.

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