Globe and Mail Review - Cult of Quick Repair

When aversion meets desire
Reviewed by: Globe and Mail

While grocery shopping, a hung-over father notices that his young son is being watched by a scruffy old man in a beige raincoat and red toque. "The drunk's still gawking. 'Sure hope he looks like his mother,' he says and shakes his head in a kind of figure eight" Aaron forces a laugh and pain spikes through the back of an eye. The man grunts and walks on "Whatever, thinks Aaron, and turns his attention back to the rows of canned fruit. He picks up a tin of mandarins and remembers his mother's words when she saw her grandson that first time. Sure doesn't look like any of my babies." A too-long look from a stranger, followed by a damaging comment and Aaron's booze-addled mind hurls him into questioning whether his son is really his son after all. Unbeknownst to his wife, who innocently shops in the mall, somewhere between ex-boyfriend suspicions and the check-out, Aaron's completely lost in a vortex of paranoia.

Dede Crane's darkly humorous tale Sunday Bastard, one of 12 stories in her insightful collection The Cult of Quick Repair (her previous publications include the critically acclaimed novel Sympathy and the teen novel The 25 Pains of Kennedy Baines), is a visceral account of just how fragile the human psyche can be.

If there is one hoary adage that stands the test of time, I believe it is: Honesty is the best policy. Even in fiction - especially the short story.

It is evident that this former ballet dancer and choreographer is no stranger to gracefully expressing a poignant tale, with intricate twists and turns of the mind, the body or both. With a deft eye for detail and in straightforward prose, Crane exposes the inner turmoil and absurdity of day-to-day existence and broaches subjects that many people experience, grapple with but rarely discuss or want to admit.

In Breaking Things, a young woman contemplates her actions and her future while awaiting an abortion, in the frightening yet funny Raising Blood, a man drinks too much, cheats on his wife and recklessly attempts to cover up his mistake. Next reveals a bored mother enticing an apathetic customer-service representative to have phone sex while he's sorting out her account, in the quirky Fireworks, a soon-to-be married couple realizes that maybe there is no such thing as mutually satisfying sex.

Why is it the things we think we want - achieving the orgasm, kids, the good job, marriage, a fling - don't ultimately satisfy our needs? The characters in these pages, like life itself, are wondering what's next and questioning whether the grass is greener on the other side.

Crane studied Buddhist psychology at the Naropa Institute in Colorado. Intrigued by that marriage of theories, I looked it up and discovered this quote: 'Life is full of unsatisfactoriness caused by aversion and desire (two sides of the same coin).' I can think of no better way to sum up the recurring themes in The Cult of Quick Repair.

However, there is a definite division of types of storytelling in this collection: those trying to be clever and those simply telling a poignant story. The best example of that poignancy is What Sort of Mother. In this final and longest story in the collection, Crane exposes Nancy's subconscious to the reader. It's like listening to a friend divulge the truth and you're so glad she did because you can relate to everything she's going through. Nancy's mother-in-law makes her feel unworthy and her kids are driving her crazy. Why do the kids always call out for her, she wonders, and why does no one really prepare a person for parenthood? She had no idea it was going to be so hard being a mother. 'If anybody had told her that children aren't fully potty trained until they're six, that she'd be wiping shit off bums six hundred times a year for eight years ...'

Crafting a good short story is a little like stripping: If you're going to tease, tease well - or else take it all off. The likes of Fireworks, Next, Raising Blood, Sunday Bastard, Breaking Things and What Sort of Mother display Crane's intuitive ability to create sympathetic, moving characters and plainly place honest sentiments on the page, dappled with vivid detail. Strip away the tricks of the trade and tell it like it is - the raw deal. That's how I got glued to The Cult of Quick Repair. Article by Alexandra Leggat.

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