Saturday, April 29, 2017

10th Canadian Challenge - 25th Review - The Roaring Girl

I don't really know what to make of the short stories in Greg Hollingshead's The Roaring Girl.  Quite a few of them didn't really seem to have a point or at least didn't come to what I would recognize as a real ending.  Most of them just seemed like a very small slice of a much longer novel.  In some cases, what would normally be front and center in a typical story (the break-up of a marriage or the fact that a couple is in an open marriage and decide to tell their son) is buried off to the side.  In some cases, I thought I was reading a Raymond Carver story at about twice the length and without any sense of epiphany.

Of all the ones that seemed to lack a point, "The Appraisal" was probably the most disappointing where you basically just had a guy get a disappointingly low appraisal on a vacation property that he wanted to sell after he and his wife split up.  That's pretty much all that happens.

I would say that only four of the stories really felt like they had "endings" with any closure: "The Roaring Girl," "The People of the Sudan," "The Naked Man" and "How Happy They Were."  The others just feel like lights down on a scene and then the characters could be set up again to start events over again in the next scene, again as if we were getting a small slice of a novel.  It's definitely a different approach to writing a story.  I'm not sure I really appreciated it, however.

I found myself really surprised at some of the strange behavior of the characters, especially the parents in "The Naked Man," who seem to have rented out the narrator's room when he went off to Australia and have more or less replaced him in their hearts with the boyfriend of their tenant.  While I didn't care for their actions, this was one of the most interesting stories (it had a certain dream-like quality) and will probably be one of the ones that lingers the longest in my mind.

I was a bit disappointed in "The Roaring Girl," as I think Hollingshead draws on only superficial aspects of Moll in Dekker and Middleton's The Roaring Girl.  (At least I assume this is the reference he is making.  You can learn about the play here.  I actually saw an adaptation of The Roaring Girl but for some reason I thought they had made Moll a pirate, but that's probably just my mind playing tricks on me - hopefully not as bad as for this gent though.)  Anyway, the original Roaring Girl refused to conform to men's expectations and went around in men's clothing and generally tried to live life as free as a man (though society often punished her for this).  There was a real-life personality (Mary Frith) who inspired the play, and she was a thief and a procurer and apparently had no interest in getting married.  Hollingshead picks up just a bit of this in the character of Lyn, a 16 year old runaway who ends up working at a gas station over the summer.  She's more than a little rough around the edges.  What is somewhat disappointing is that Hollingshead decided that the only plausible way for her to get even further away from whatever she was running from was to take up with an alcoholic co-worker old enough to be her father.  They steal from the till and then hightail it out of town.  The original Roaring Girl wouldn't have needed a man's help at all.

I'd say that the two stories I liked the best (even though they still seemed incomplete) were "A Night at the Palace" where a man reconnects with his childhood friend and "The Death of Brul√©" which actually had shades of Tremblay's the Chroniques du Plateau Mont-Royal series (from which I reviewed the first novel here).  On the whole, this collection wasn't as good as I had hoped or that some of the hype led me to believe, but there were still some interesting elements to most of the stories.  Generally the actions (particularly of the various parents) seemed a little off-kilter and often surprised me, and that is a good thing on the whole.  Nothing is more boring than a completely predictable story.

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