by Charlotte Gill
Published by Thomas Allen
230 pages, 2005
Welcome to the Twilight Zone
Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen
You know that moment that sometimes happens before dusk, when the setting sun gilds the world before it dips into tomorrow? In Charlotte Gill's seven stories we meet people who are frozen in this kind of light, their lives etched in brilliant clarity, their relationships caught just as they are about to crumble and blur away into yesterday. Not one union in these stories is a positive one.
These are edgy, taut stories, frequently about people we would rather not know. People, for example, like the self destructive drug dealer in "You Drive" who had a problem: "He ran into women like telephone poles for the pain, the intensity, the continual drama. He knew exactly why. They distracted him from a disease of too much quiet."
People like Colby, the scuba instructor on his way out of a job, behind on his rent, about to be evicted and sexually succumbing to a truculent and rebellious teenager who is definitely going to make the expression "jailbait" relevant.
Or sons and lovers like Gary, the ladykiller of the title story, who simply cannot resist random acts of sex with strangers, even when it means abandoning his dying mother who is about to pass out.
Nominated for this year's Governor General Award for fiction, Ladykiller is as fresh as it is stark. In Gill's hands the English language has the same crispness and lucidity as that pre-twilight. In "Homology" bitchy twins watch two women walking down the sand in Bermuda shorts: "They have curds of white flesh on their thighs." In "Hush," Patty gets into her Honda. "She lets it take her to the exit and onto the tapeworm of highway that feeds itself over the bridge." In "The Art of Medicine" Anne observes: "All the leaves had come down off the trees. They nestled like crusts in the gutter. A day pushed right out on the ledge of autumn." And in "You Drive," "The truck slid out like a secret. It glided obliquely, wider around the bend. He pawed at the wheel, hand over hand as the world outside slurred centrifugally."
Gill puts the English language under great stress. She makes every word work harder than it's used to in order to to get serious mileage out of each. Not only are the words forced to create perfect pictures for us, they also serve as neon signs illuminating the central character's mood, enhancing the feeling whether it be bleakness and depression, boredom, surliness or self defeat. Like afterglow, the stories are imprinted in our minds long after they've come and gone.
While this may be the author's first book, several of these works have appeared before. "The Art of Medicine" was selected for 0l: Best Canadian Stories, "Hush" has appeared in Grain as well as The Journey Prize Anthology 15, and "Ladykiller" appeared under the title "Mothers" in Fiddlehead.
Gill has redefined some of those words we can't get enough of -- words like "love," "need," "beauty," "marriage" and "security" have been perversely flipped on their backs with their private parts exposed.
Gill may be tough with her language and her readers, taking them on journeys they may prefer not to take, but with her characters she is sensitive and non-judgmental. The world can use more of that and readers will find they can use more of Charlotte Gill. | November 2005
Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.