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Play the Monster Blind

by Lynn Coady

In her first collection of short stories, erstwhile Cape Bretoner Lynn Coady mines much the same ground she did in her award-winning debut novel, Strange Heaven. In Play the Monster Blind, Coady affects the same emotional arm’s length narrative style, though it works better here. While her protagonists resemble Bridget Murphy, the central character of her debut, these Bridgets are allowed further out into the world.

While Coady’s characters are not quite monsters, most of them are blind, about themselves, or those they love, or the way things really are. They address this problem in a number of ways: by leaving (some go, as Coady went, clear across the country), by drinking, by having babies, or by embracing religion. In the collection’s standout story “Jesus Christ, Murdeena,” a young woman starts taking walks after supper (to the dismay of her mother and the gossip-fueling delight of the neighbours) to visit the old folks home and preach the word of God and practice some hands-on healing.

These small town folks – drinkers and braggarts and bad boys, single moms and anorexics and misunderstood girls – risk becoming caricatures, but are saved by Coady’s deft hand with dialogue and hilarious sense of humour. Her judicious use of italics and liberal application of the funniest of Cape Breton idioms (christer, frigger, hole, Lord lifting Antichrist) further enliven what is already very vivid dialogue.

Like fellow Atlantic ex-pat Wayne Johnston, Coady writes about home with a mix of tenderness and frustration. Her innate understanding of small towns and the people who inhabit them imbues her writing with compassion, while her sly world view and sarcastic turn of phrase ensure these 11 stories are never maudlin. The promise Coady showed in Strange Heaven is met in Play the Monster Blind.

And for those who miss the Bridget Murphy from Coady’s debut, she makes a cameo appearance in “Look, and Move On,” wearing her grandmother’s big underwear while being driven to university in Ontario by her older friend Alan.