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Pickle Me This

March 26, 2018

A One-Handed Novel, by Kim Clark

It’s a quandary, certainly, and not one I’ve ever encountered in fiction before. Melanie Farrell has already done most of the things you read about in novels—she’s come of age, gotten married, been divorced, confronted a life-changing diagnosis (Multiple Sclerosis) etc. etc., but now in Kim Clark’s A One-Handed Novel, her doctor delivers her some devastating news. Her disease is progressing (not news) and a neurological test has revealed she has just six orgasms left. Six! And she’s already spent once since the test, she realizes—what to do? And so begins her journey to use those remaining orgasms to their best and fullest potential, to make each one count. But then best intentions have always been Melanie’s downfall—witness the items on her Twelve Days of Christmas list, which are most consistently “liquor” and “guilt”. With hilarity and so much heart, Clark takes her reader on Melanie’s journey to make the most of her remaining orgasms. A comic novel about MS—who would have thought it? But it’s also about sex, about coming to terms with one’s bodily limitations, and about friendship, money, hope, and community. It’s not so narratively taut—a third of the way through the remaining orgasms conceit is put aside while Melanie travels to Costa Rica for the expensive and controversial “liberation therapy” which fails to deliver the results she is looking for. Clark also relies too much on humour to carry the story, poignant moments rushed by to arrive at a wisecrack. The end of the novel also crosses the line beyond ridiculous and I feel like some meaning gets lost in the absurdity…and yet. And yet, how can you criticize someone’s narrative trajectory in their comic novel about MS? I feel like the humour and absurdity is a form of resistance, against the cliches and inspiration readers are often seeking in memoirs of disability and illness. The narrative’s all-over-the-placecess too is appropriate for a story of a progressive disease, with the arrival of symptoms where they’re least expected, some improvement, a step forward and two steps back, and then the possibilities that arrive with wild hope, that necessary wild hope—maybe indeed liberation therapy in Costa Rica will produce a miraculous cure? A progressive illness is not a straight line, but neither is any life experience, and so to expect a story to conform to such neatness is an awful lot to ask. I really enjoyed this book, its humour, its wildness, and its point of view—and my appreciation for it was underlined by an understanding of Clark’s background as a playwright. Because while this not the most perfectly shaped novel I have ever read, Clark has got her character’s voice (first person) so exactly perfect. It’s a voice for a monologue, a voice that begs to be performed, funny, generous and wise, and it’s a voice that echoes in the reader’s mind long after the novel is finished.

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