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Hating Gladys

by Leona Gom

It is the summer of 1965, and Gladys Pratt, an embittered, middle-aged woman, is preparing for another swarm of whining tourists to descend upon her isolated Yukon lodge. When one of her sullen staffers tries to set fire to the lodge in reaction to Gladys’s snide brutality, things go from bad to worse. Gladys, meanwhile, suspects her husband of philandering with Kendy, a seductive young waitress, and begins to spy on the couple. Paralyzed with jealousy and repulsion, Gladys merely watches as a grotesque act of sexual abuse occurs.

Flash forward 35 years. Elke, a former lodge waitress, sees Gladys on a Vancouver skytrain. Now a psychology professor, Elke is stunned by her own unspent rage at the sight of Gladys and decides to contact her long-lost friend Kendy. After venting their mutual anger, the two agree to a devious plan of revenge to pay back their hateful old employer.

Betrayal, vengeance, and the price of retribution are the central themes in Leona Gom’s Hating Gladys. More haunting is Gom’s subtle implication that, although it is the female characters who psychologically abuse each other, a more silent culprit looms over them – a grim periphery of grotesque masculine abuse, disturbingly immune from all recrimination. Female vengeance is revealed as a sorry band-aid to hide deeper, festering wounds.

Gom has created a cast of characters that are both humorous and darkly ambivalent. The women’s sympathetic bid for vengeance is tinged with stubborn flecks of remorse, guilt, and unhealthy obsession. Despite Gladys’s remarkably hateful quality, there is something likable about the old curmudgeon – a black, sometimes laugh-out-loud sense of wry and pointed humour that inspires shards of respect and even compassion. Gom also has a deft ear for sharp dialogue.

Once vengeance has been wrought upon Gladys, the question arises as to who physically perpetrated the deed. Elke? Kendy? Gladys’s abused son or the son’s equally harassed wife? Unfortunately, Gom’s final revelation is anti-climactic and slightly contrived. A bland tonal shift also occurs at the conclusion that sadly supplants wry bile with Elke’s simplistic sentiments on the nature of vengeance.