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Cover Me

by Mariko Tamaki

A striking deadpan humour sets the narrative tone in Toronto writer Mariko Tamaki’s fiction debut, Cover Me. Over the course of lunch with her wise-cracking father in a downtown Chinese restaurant, narrator Traci Yamoto describes her struggles as an adolescent outcast in tiny North Toronto. The Yamoto family is well-drawn and the loving dynamic between father and daughter is as poignant as it is comical.

Parents are well-meaning protectors and natural obstacles in this story that explores, among other things, the inherited legacy of depression. Mrs. Yamoto’s breakdown has a lasting effect on her children, and the description of the mother’s recovery is funny, if perhaps a touch snide. That said, Tamaki’s gift for humour rarely diminishes the story’s emotional realities.

If older readers are growing weary of the female-narrator-as-psychiatric-patient, readers under 25 will likely embrace Tamaki’s fresh and funny brevity with enthusiasm. Teenage readers, so often starved for edgy writing that speaks directly to their experience, will also find an appealing heroine in Traci Yamoto. Hospitalized after she “accidently” cuts herself too deeply, Traci finds her worst fears about her own mental health are realized. Tamaki broaches the subject of “cutting” – a common but seldom-mentioned practice of self-mutilation – with frank tenderness.

While lacking the detailed richness of a novel proper, Cover Me does reach beyond the limits of the long short story, offering up that other exciting form: the novella. Quibbles about form as defined by length aside, Cover Me is a funny-sad tale delivered by an interesting new voice.