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Getting Lucky

by Matt Cohen

Critical Etiquette Rule # 96: Ignore the book’s author. Get rid of him.

We became intimate with Matt Cohen last fall when he won the Governor General’s Award for Elizabeth and After. We saw him ridicule death and then die. We heard tributes from friends, anecdotes from those who’d taken his classes, or who’d reviewed his books and received nice notes. Ten years ago, Cohen told another writer he “might as well be dead” for all the accolades he was getting. In Getting Lucky’s 10 stories, it is hard to ignore Cohen.

They are stories made the old-fashioned way: tight, textured, punchy, ambiguous, full of great sentences. They also boast Cohen’s comic range, from sly to slapstick. His characters are men at war with desire, debility, professional failure, and death. Cohen finds the pathos of men’s lives funny and exotic. So are the stories.

Rule #130: Do not suggest autobiography.

Cohen is everywhere. He is the acerbic Michael, “Getting Lucky” with tavern tart Karen. He is also brain cancer-ridden Bob, Karen’s live-in ex, who sings, “She won’t care that I am dead / She laughs when she sees my bald head.” Another narrator is Stella’s ex-husband, a.k.a. “Napoleon in Moscow,” whose “real vocation was to be a writer” but whose early stories “were rejected by corrupt monarchist editors.” He returns home for sex with Stella and dinner with the kids but says, “there’s something in this I can’t do. I can’t burden the brightness of their living with the awkward shadow of my death…. I’ll be lying in the ground somewhere and they’ll be standing over me, not sure whether to weep or just be relieved.”

Rule # 240: You’re a professional journalist. Use sound judgment.

Cohen’s ironic presence may be part of the thrill of these stories, but they’re good without it. So ignore him. Or read ‘im and weep.