Don’t be fooled by the tame book cover: this is not dainty, precious fiction. It’s biting, fresh, and as funny as the best joke you’ve heard all month.
The opening story is a curious choice. “Benny” is a story of good intentions gone wrong; it’s a solid story about the inevitability of childhood adventures occasionally going astray, but it does not set the tone of stories that follow.
The stories that follow are lively and hilarious, and they’re stylistically distinct in their unadorned, yet evocative sentence-level language. In “Maeve,” a woman fed up with her man’s lack of employment kicks him out daily while she’s at work, hoping it’ll encourage him to find work.
One day – the day his go-to tavern turned him away on account of unpaid tabs, and the day buddy at the corner store wouldn’t sell him a single smoke out of a pack – he walks past Maeve’s house, and sees a help wanted sign. So he bursts into her house, shakes her awake from her nap, “What are you saying, woman … have you got a little business on the go or what?”
Turns out she just had a single, one-off, and hilarious task she needed a hand with. A pea has rolled under the fridge, and she wants it retrieved before it goes bad and lets off a stink. Artie being Artie finds other tasks she could reimburse him for. And Artie being Artie overstays his welcome that day, and many a day thereafter.
It’s a hilarious, anthology-worthy story that never wanes in its highly readable, no-nonsense styling. Poor ol’ Maeve was so stressed one week, “She forgot to watch Days of Our Lives twice and doesn’t know what’s going on anymore.”
Like the majority of the stories in this collection, this funny story is entwined with, or propelled by the kind of St. John’s “characters” who give St. John’s its character. And the sentence-level writing is economical – these stories are filler free but full of punch.
We meet Jane from “Jane” thusly, “Jane discovered the fine art of complaining when she wrote to the soup company about the lack of noodles all of a sudden — wanting to know why, especially since the prices had gone up and the cans gotten smaller.”
Hogan-Safer is a rare treat to read because of the vivacity of her characters and the punch and hook of her humour and humanity. Her characters are crackling with life and do unexpected things. Jane — the freebie hunter — was surprisingly unenthused about winning a trip. Who wants the hassle of having to get a passport?
And her son is just as surprising. He’s a thief who says “burglary isn’t any different than buying raffle tickets as far as he could see, except that he didn’t have to pay anything.”
Some of these pieces are properly arced shorts, while shorter pieces, like “Lilly,” “Dora,” and “Frogs.” feel more like a scene than a story with arc. It’ll be up to individual readers whether that is refreshing brevity, a twist on the standard short, or whether those few stories feel incomplete somehow.
Catherine Hogan-Safer’s lively characters create believable townie worlds and scenarios we can all relate to. This is vibrant fiction, and she manages to be funny even in the stories that are dark and sad, creating a unique read you’ll not be accustomed to or bored by. Winners: “Joe,” “Madonna,” and certainly “Maeve.”