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The Watermelon Social

by Elaine McCluskey

Despite the insistence of too many TV shows, stories of the suburbs don’t have to include big and dark revelations to provoke interest. Take The Watermelon Social, the first collection from Elaine McCluskey. The people in her 10 collected stories are middle-class folks, dragged down by finances, spouses, jobs, and even their lovely houses. The first line in the title story comes from the mother-narrator: “My house makes me cry.” Later, she says of her neighbourhood, “In two years, I have never heard a child cry or an adult laugh.” These two short, simple sentences demonstrate McCluskey’s effective economy in drawing a world of oppressive decorum. McCluskey is brief wherever she can be. Every word counts.

The pruned language occasionally fails, though. In “The Year of the Horse,” set during the overnight shift in a newspaper office, McCluskey tries too hard to show the oddness that bonds the nocturnal staff, with everyone speaking in clipped and cryptic phrases. The narrative voice from story to story, whether first- or third-person, also tends to hit the same weary tone.

McCluskey creates convincing child characters, especially those just bordering the teenage years. At 12 and 13 years old, young people may say little, but a lot of meaning resides in those few words. McCluskey reproduces the concerns and conversational styles of the young, especially in “Eric Montross Sucks.” This story positions the reader beside two friends, Brandon and Jeffrey, whispering in class, jumping from speculation of the whereabouts of the absent gym teacher (could he be in jail?) to another friend’s staring-contest victory over a cat: “I think the cat could’ve gone longer if he’d known it was a contest.” McCluskey weaves Brandon and Jeffrey’s hilarious conversations in with scenes featuring the school principal, Mr. Wheedle, “who, on the slimmest pretense, escapes to the mall.” McCluskey only gestures at Mr. Wheedle’s malfeasance, leaving the reader to fill in the rest.

Ultimately, McCluskey’s sparse style offers a kind of collaboration between writer and reader: you’re willing to work for her, even if it means spending some time in the suburbs.


Reviewer: Sean Flinn

Publisher: Gaspereau Press


Price: $25.95

Page Count: 140 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-55447-020-X

Released: Apr.

Issue Date: 2006-3

Categories: Fiction: Short