this is not a review: help me, jacques cousteau, by gil adamson

Have just read Gil Adamson’s Help Me, Jacques Cousteau, a collection of linked stories narrated by Hazel, an adult looking back on two decades of her life from babyhood to twenty-ish (all seen in present tense, and from a weirdly almost omniscient POV, which, at times threw me off and other times had me convinced there was no other way to go).

Hazel’s family is made up entirely of eccentrics and not one of them knows it. Her father rewires the house whenever he’s nervous, an uncle collects large white animals, which he then takes for rides in his boat, while her grandfather keeps a dead dog in the back seat until he begins to smell it (which, unfortunately, is much later than everyone else does).

Through the ‘younger’ stories, Hazel merely observes and reports (perhaps too much; I would have welcomed more of her), but this, I think, is all part of the apparent ‘nothingness’ of her life as she sees it and, therefore, she’s not really a part of it. There’s a kind of unspecified disillusionment with this family that pays little attention to one another, so immersed are they in their own strange behaviours and coping mechanisms.

Despite it all, there is a strong underlying sense of love, as if everyone is doing the best they can. “My mother and I share a fondness for watching insects from a safe distance.” How they turn out is anyone’s guess.

Adamson’s poetic touches are throughout. A girl has “a mouth like a poppy.”

Clouds “resemble the sand in shallow water.”

Cousins pour out of a car “like fish from a bucket.”

In the very last stories, Hazel the character suddenly comes alive and we’re privy to her feelings and thoughts rather than just what’s going on around her. But of course it’s what’s gone on around her all her life that has shaped her.

The epigraph—”Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens”— ends up having two meanings: in one way, nothing has happened and that’s been the problem; on the other hand, how can a grandfather carting around a dead dog in his car be seen as ‘nothing’…?

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