Toronto Star Review - The Hour of Bad Decisions

A newswoman evokes the sharp pain of divorce
Reviewed by: Toronto Star

If Russell Wangersky has any pull, 2 a.m. is officially the hour of bad decisions. You late-night lurkers know it well. It's that dreadful time when the walls have ears, the wind whips up your imagination and you know you're on the verge of either a big breakthrough or a manic mistake. It's that mad moment when you leave an ill-conceived goodbye note on the fridge. It's when all your portable worldly belongings are hastily shoved into a green garbage bag, then perched precariously on the passenger seat. Then your heart pounds like a jackhammer while you back out of the driveway for the last time Wangersky's short fiction debut, The Hour of Bad Decisions, is a poignant study of these stomach-churning U-turns.

As divorce has become a standard mid-life rite of passage, many will no doubt identify with this collection. Wangersky has distilled the essence of separation and loss with compassion, grit and eloquence. It's as if the wickedly observant Alice Munro and the bawdy Al Purdy had produced a love child, by way of a gritty newsroom -Wangersky is the editor-in-chief of The Telegram in St. John's, Nfld. Although not every character is separated or divorced, each story is a variation on the twisted theme of middle-aged crazy. Adulterous mid-level newspaper managers, sullen ad sales reps, arsonist farmers and other misfits make their way through adult life, fuelled alternatively by fear, anger, regret, trepidation and testosterone.

In Between features a character named Stephen Morris, who sells classified ads and is newly separated. Morris lives alone in a downtown row house. His imaginary personal ad reads as follows: 'For sale -the dryer in working condition, two sets of wooden shelves, bicycle, wedding dress size ten, never worn.'. Morris logs a lot of self-pity time in bed. His phone never rings: 'Me? I could lie on my bed and stare at the ceiling for hours, absolutely no fight left in me, as empty as if someone had opened a vein and drained out every drop of will.' The story is a brilliant portrait of the emotional sinkhole called separation: 'Sometimes, I wake up and realize I've really lost something. You don't remember the way things hurt, so the heat of anger eventually fades to the slow simmer of regret.'

Two other gems stand out. 'Housekeeping' is about a suicidal senior who finds redemption at a local motel 'Hot Tub' portrays a fragmented family on an ill-timed holiday: A water-logged dad avoids his imperfect offspring and hissing wife by passive-aggressively lingering in the communal hot tub for an entire day and night. Two stories, just two, don't measure up to the near-perfect pitch of the others. Otherwise, this is an enchanting debut. Patricia Robertson is a Saskatchewan writer.

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