The stories in Eat Your Heart Out explore failed relationships and missed opportunities. Loneliness and regret permeate the collection, but it’s saved from depressing monotony by Toronto actress Katie Boland’s use of voice and tone to build character and setting.
Although Boland creates a number of strong, first-person protagonists (the 44-year-old washed-up reporter in “Tragic Hero,” for instance, or the 23-year-old Irish Catholic in “The Falling Action”), the two standouts are written in third person. In “Saturday,” Meryl, who has worked as a grief counsellor for 23 years, must face the slow death of her husband, Joe. In “Mama,” Cheryl, a young waitress who has just found out she’s pregnant, returns home to bury her estranged, alcoholic mother. In both stories, Boland creates rich characterization not just through voice, but also via an effective use of flashbacks, giving each character a full backstory.
Intimate relationships lie at the heart of each piece, and the reader often gets so caught up in the emotional connection between two characters that it can be a little jarring when Boland pulls back to reveal a larger context. In “The Falling Action,” for example, the revelation that the romantic protagonist is a member of the Irish Republican Army strikes a discordant note.
While Boland’s facility for characterization and setting make Eat Your Heart Out a worthwhile one-time read, the overall prose style is weak. Throughout the collection, technical aspects of the prose either confuse or add nothing. Written in a third-person limited perspective, “Sweetieface” focuses on Sam, who is meeting up for drinks with his unrequited crush, Grace. For a few short paragraphs the story suddenly shifts from Sam’s point-of-view to Grace’s. This awkward transition shakes the reader out of the story and testifies to a lack of authorial craft. Enjoyable on their surfaces, Boland’s stories do not stand up to a close read.