Pardon our monsters

Pardon our Monsters

By Faustus Salvador

A review of Pardon Our Monsters by Andrew Hood

Published on November 1, 2007

Pardon Our Monsters
Andrew Hood

Vehicule Press
$17.95
paper
160pp
978-1-55-65-232-1

Among the literary genres, the short story is one of the trickiest to write. Ironically, it is also the form with which many new writers hone their skills, a shallow pool in which to practice before taking on the grand depths of the novel. After all, the brevity of the short story – with a roughly designated but very palpable length – ought to make it more approachable than a longer work, at least in theory. Actually crafting a good short story is another matter altogether, since the best examples of the genre thrum with as much muscle as the best novels, only within a more confined and exacting space. It’s little wonder that few writers make their mark with short stories alone.

“That Ghost We Had,” one of the 12 stories in Hood’s debut collection, shows off that muscle in less than four pages. To amuse herself, a new bride invents a “ghost” for her house by writing spectral messages to her husband on the steamed-up washroom mirror. The story, unlike the ruse, flows with nary a snag from its original premise to its sombre and ultimately poignant end. Considering the length and subject matter, it’s a remarkable feat of narrative dexterity and restraint.

Other stories in the collection display similar sleights of hand. The title story, for instance, follows a town in mourning over a boy killed in an accident. The catch is it appears that everyone but the narrator has forgotten the boy was cruel bully. As the boy’s remaining brothers – tormentors themselves – become increasingly barbarous under the seemingly compassionate eye of the town, it becomes obvious to the narrator that the place he once knew as home would be no more. Hood’s take on the false virtue of remembrance is at turns scathing and defiant, an anti-elegy that shows its hand at the end with harrowing decisiveness.

The stories in Pardon Our Monsters cover an extensive range, each underpinned by an incisive eye for characters in the midst of awkward transitions. From a child’s quiet lament for a brother’s love in “A Sound Like Dolphins” to the perceived scrutiny felt by a recently divorced father in “Thirty-Six in the Cellar,” Hood’s prose convinces with an old storyteller’s ease, be it lyrical or downright venomous. Take “Make It a Better Place,” the final story. An estranged stepmother and stepson undertake a bleary-eyed, round-the-clock road trip from southern Ontario to California for the singular purpose of being among Michael Jackson’s supporters at his trial. It’s the longest of the stories and filled with well-nigh surreal elements, but Hood’s writing keeps it firmly grounded, as in this passage where Jackson first appears:

What a mess this man has become. A sallow, hollowed out, pallid face, destroyed by so much tinkering […] On the other side of the fence are his prime, his excellence, his youth. His image has remained unsullied, unaged, while he himself has absorbed all the hideousness of his excess. He is Dorian Gray’s portrait.

A short story collection like this is a rarity from a new writer. One is reminded of Lorrie Moore’s debut, Self-Help. Andrew Hood’s Pardon Our Monsters, simply put, is a powerhouse of artistry and reveals to us a writer in whom enormous talent deeply abides. mRb

Faustus Salvador is a writer whose articles and fiction have been published in England, Japan, and across Canada.

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