The sophomore collection of short stories from Halifax-based author Andrew Hood, The Cloaca is 138 pages of people who don’t know what they’re doing.
Described on the back cover as “your high school gym coach, drunk and dishing dirt on all the other teachers on the crosstown bus,” the stories in this book capture your attention like a man on a bicycle wiping out in the rain, or a bunch of Italians yelling at each other on the sidewalk [both of which I saw two days ago].
With only eight stories, The Cloaca feels light compared to collections by authors like Stephen King, but makes up for it with the fact that these are good stories, plain and simple. Descriptions are interesting without being flowery, and the characters feel like real, breathing individuals. Themes are explored and run throughout each narrative without being obvious or heavy-handed.
Beginning with “Manning,” about a boy put in charge of his mother’s baseball card table at a collector’s show. The tense awkwardness of a man rummaging through their wares and the narrator’s decision on whether or not to sell him a card sets the tone for the remaining stories, that people will make decisions based on what they feel, whether good or bad.
The longest story, “Beginner,” chronicles the going-nowhere life of a 31-year-old woman who, once upon a time, wanted to “be awesome at karate.” Still working at the same coffee shop she’s left countless times already, Frances signs up for an art class in a frantic attempt to find some sort of purpose. Her experiences in a beginner’s level course for children and her relationship with one of her classmates left me wanting more. It’s apparent that even within the next few minutes there’s more to come, but the story ends having made its point.
Finally, the one that fascinated me the most was the ironically titled “Unburdened Things.” An agreement is struck between the narrator and their boyfriend that they’ll take turns with one working, the other doing whatever their heart desires. The incredible thing is the narrator remains both nameless and sexless throughout. Upon realizing this I flipped pages, searching for gender specific pronouns or any clues to reveal whether the narrator was male or female. When I found nothing it dawned on me that it didn’t matter. What the story is about and the underlying idea behind it rings true all the same.
The Cloaca was published by Invisible Publishing, a company that is “committed to working with writers who might not ordinarily be published and distributed commercially.” Canadian literature isn’t that easy to find, even in Canadian libraries, and the fact that they even exist is encouraging on a number of levels.
At the very least, The Cloaca is worth checking out from your local library. At most, you can nab a copy for $12.24 on Amazon.ca [a little more for you Americans, sorry!].
Written by Andrew Hood