There’s a lot of energy in this book. The opening story, “A Sound Like Dolphins,” is possibly the weakest in the book, but it also sets up nearly every story in the book with its blend of frank violence and sexuality and the every day mess that is domestic life. When we think of tales of domestic life, particularly in this country, we tend to think of rural—or at least not explicitly urban—families living lives of no real import but nonetheless dealing with nuanced emotional and moral consequences. We also tend to think of these works as focusing primarily on the lives of women. Being, as we are, nearly a decade into the 21st Century, one would hope that we could put aside in both our national literature and our national subconscious such simple, ridiculous notions such as women having more or more interesting/important things to say about domesticity through fiction. We of course have not.
Pardon Our Monsters examines a variety of mostly domestic situations (divorce and single fatherhood, siblings dying, the onset of puberty, fucking up your life and having to move home), mostly, though of course not exclusively, from male perspectives or with male protagonists. Hood’s characters are not grand people living grand lives, are not explicitly urban, and the stories definitely involve issues of emotional and moral nuance and consequence. They also refuse to strip out the violence and puss and blood and shit and decay that regularly inhabit the periphery and sometimes even the cores of plain old domestic lives. And I’m not just speaking metaphorically. There’s a wonderfully true to life scene in “Giving Up the Ghost” wherein a thirteen year old boy sneaks off to a hospital washroom to masturbate to completion for the very first time while his sister lays dying of a brain tumour on the next floor. It’s quite remarkable stuff, in its way. Not quite as good as the blurb by Trevor Ferguson (I’m not sure who that is, but he apparently he gives great blurb) would suggest, but he’s certainly somebody to watch. Particular favourites are the titular piece, a fine exemplar of the criteria stated above, and “That Ghost We Had,” which is simultaneously the sweetest and saddest thing ever.
Next: At A Loss For Words, by Diane Schoemperlen.