Surviving the Crack Up
Reviewed by Héliane Ventura
Some of the canonical definitions for the short story immediately spring to mind when one is reading Vivette Kady’s volume of stories entitled Most Wanted, for instance Frank O’Connor’s from 1963: “Always in the short story there is this sense of outlawed figures wandering about the fringes of society.” Consider some of Kady’s characters: a cross-dressing pigeon lover who keeps his wife’s ashes in a dog-shaped cookie jar; a three-legged mutt with occasional bouts of depression who breaks its owner’s heart with its flip-side energy and optimism, a defeated and slovenly wife who has her lips perfectly made up by a child before visiting her dying husband in the hospital. Kady’s characters are imbued with a sense of the intensity of human loneliness and yet, theirs is no unredeemed dereliction: somehow, in one character’s words, “the patched tissue is resilient.”
Kady has a gift for imaging moments of no sound; she conjures up silent episodes which are heart-stopping, like the slow headlong tumble of a baby, crashing his head on the floor, or the dolled-up woman in her yellow sundress who happily rushes to meet her date only to be stopped in mid-flight by an epileptic fit, or the narrator’s teenage daughter sucking the fingers of her mother’s boyfriend when he scoops out ice cream from an ice cream tub. She also includes in her narration photographic images of violent ambiguities like the open gold lipstick case with a lethal-looking knife blade where the lipstick should be and the caption which says: “If lips could kill.”
More than the images themselves, it is the graphic quality of the writing that creates its strength; words evoke images but they also invoke them: for instance one of the narrators depicts Francis Bacon’s screaming popes and discusses them, during a wedding party, with his brother’s bride, who happens to be his ex-girlfriend. Like Francis Bacon, Vivette Kady is bent on perfecting the representation of the human cry, and the silently sonorous anguish of her characters is derived from the existential crack-up they seem to undergo. Gilles Deleuze said that Scott Fitzgerald’s story entitled “The Crack Up” emblematized best the art of the short story. Vivette Kady’s stories belong in this tradition of the crystallisation of frustration and malaise into art. She is a gifted painter of emotional landscapes, and she renews the canonical voice because of the simple transparency of her stories. Kady has a gift of poignancy which springs from the linearity of the narration: there are few flashbacks or prospective leaps in the stories. The plots are not convoluted, intertwined and deceptively self-reflexive: they seem to progress along a straight line. Kady does not take us for a ride: she invites us on the road again, with the horizon richly receding towards infinity.
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Books reviewed: New Women: Short Stories by Canadian Women, 1900 - 1920 by Sandra Campbell and Lorraine McMullen
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Books reviewed: The Well and Other Stories by Nick Faragher, The Chinese Knot and Other Stories by Lien Chao, and We Are Not in Pakistan by Shauna Singh Baldwin
- CanLit Inter-nationally by Debra Dudek
Books reviewed: Tropes and Territories: Short Fiction, Postcolonial Readings, Canadian Writings in Context by Marta Dvorak and W. H. New and Trans.Can.Lit: Resituating the Study of Canadian Literature by Smaro Kamboureli and Roy Miki
MLA: Ventura, Héliane. Surviving the Crack Up. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 20 Apr. 2014.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #194 (Autumn 2007), Visual/Textual Intersections. (pg. 141 - 143)
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