I don’t have a lot of guilt about giving up on a book that hasn’t got me riveted by, say, page 100. But that still doesn’t make it easy. Before crying Uncle I tend first to do a kind of dithery dance: close the covers, open them a few hours later, close them, consider another book, open its covers, then go back to the original, skim a few chapters.
And so on for a day or two.
By which time I could have read the bloody thing.
Much easier of course is a book so outright awful (or just really not my cup of tea at that moment) that it inspires me to slam it shut and move on without the hint of a dither. It happens but it’s rare.
Even rarer is a book I consider giving up on but don’t, and then end up not only glad I didn’t pull the plug, but thrilled that I didn’t. Claudia Dey’s Stunt is such a book.
It’s narrated by a young girl searching for her runaway father. The setting is Toronto: the islands, Parkdale, ravines. Much of her journey is internal, much bopping back and forth in time, and peopled with characters so quirky I sometimes couldn’t distinguish between what she’s living and what she imagines. Which is the whole lovely point of course.
Having said that, it felt long in places. Too much of a good thing is still too much and by page 100 I was saying: enough; it’s all beautiful poetic writing that circles and circles but I keep losing track of the story; is there a story?? But when I tried to stop, I couldn’t. That hypnotic circling poetry kept prancing round my head and so I continued and by the time I finished I wanted to start all over again. And I will.
Not for the story—but for the language.
And for the place Dey’s word magic ultimately takes both us and the narrator—back to ourselves with sharpened senses—the way senses can only be sharpened after a particularly breathtaking ride.
Language always wins.
“I wake to you standing above me, grinning. You should have bird feathers between your teeth. A thermos of coffee and a bag of worms in your hands. Apples in your suit pockets making you the many-breasted Artemis, goddess of the beasts. Boots grinding the carpeted floor, you are flinging sparks. Secret. And suddenly we are on your bicycle and we are, with your fist in the air, heading southeast to fish and to make fire!,our house and the life that we stage within it shrinking behind us to a dot on a map—instantly, the Old World. How far will we go? The Scarborough Bluffs? The Orient? And will we ever go back? Or should I start to memorize my mother’s face now? My sister’s? Every night I ask myself this question, and every night we return home, smelling like fire.” —From Stunt, by Claudia Dey, Coach House Books, 2008