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Play the Monster Blind (2000)

by Lynn Coady

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563374,713 (3.54)6
An exhilarating collection of short fiction, Play the Monster Blind showcases the remarkably original voice of Lynn Coady, the award-winning author of Strange Heaven. Funny, poignant and smart, full of unforgettable characters, these stories explore the violence of family, the constraints of small-town life and the elusive promise of escape. In "Ice Cream Man," an adolescent girl struggles to come to terms with her mother's death and her father's seeming indifference while conducting a secret affair with an older man from the local arena. Gerald, the young boy in "Big Dog Rage," goes to extreme and reckless measures to thwart the expectations of his parents, teachers, and the local priest, leaving his childhood friend to look longingly on. And in the title story, Bethany sees her gentle fiancé anew as she enters the raucous world of his hard-drinking family. Receiving a sharp shot to the mouth from her future sister-in-law Bethany finds her place in this clan secured. With her incisive, resonant prose, Lynn Coady elicits laughter, sadness, and compassion. Play the Monster Blind is a keenly observed, imaginative collection from one of the most distinctive talents to arrive on Canada's literary scene in years.… (more)
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The title story in this collection, “Play the Monster Blind”, is utterly and morbidly gripping. In it, Lynn Coady displays a curious but fascinating affinity for the hulking gentle male who is nonetheless capable of near-instant violence. Her characters ooze out of the Nova Scotian bedrock. “Earthy” is almost too modest of an adjective for them. And yet they seem entirely real. Even her narrator, who naturally maintains a degree of distance, is somehow complicit. You end up thinking that this can’t possibly end well, regardless of how it does end.

Sometimes Coady presents a character sketch, as with the irrepressible Murdeena in “Jesus Christ, Murdeena”. At other times we get the slightly distanced view on local rituals, as in “A Great Man’s Passing”. But usually it is violent men that are her subject, even if that violence is usually contained by the semi-civilized rules of a sport, as in “Batter My Heart”. In all of these stories, Coady writes with clarity and passion.

Less successful, perhaps, are the stories that revolve around a set of female characters. Some of these feel uncertain. Similar incidents recur in separate stories as though Coady is feeling her way in the dark, bumping into the same objects without noticing. Or as if these are different drafts of some further story she is yet to write. The result is a somewhat uneven collection. The best stories, which tend to be those gathered towards the front of the book, set such a high standard that the weaker ones appear even weaker when set in relief. That’s unfortunate because with a bit more rigorous selection this could easily have been a first-rate collection. Thus the dangers of a prolific writer without a censorious editor. But certainly there is enough here to warrant reading more of Coady, which is what I will surely do. Gently recommended. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Apr 24, 2014 |
some stories really good, a few really bad in particular"in disguise in the sky". ( )
  mahallett | Nov 29, 2012 |
Worthlessness. Disappointment. Boredom. Hellishness. Despair. The eleven stories in Lynn Coady’s debut collection (which followed her astonishingly successful debut novel Strange Heaven) are not for the faint-of-heart.

You won’t miss these things. You can’t miss them. But they’re not as simple as they seem. Worthlessness slips into striving. Boredom translates into comfort. Hellishness becomes familiar.

And, besides all of that, there are also some moments of wonder. One of these comes right at the end of the title story, which opens the collection, “Play the Monster Blind”. (So, you see, you don’t have to read far for a glimpse of something amazing.)

Obliquely contrasting emotions and experiences characterize many of the stories in this collection: euphoria and desperation, celebration and regret, stagnancy and propulsion, triumph and loneliness. It’s an unsettling but also powerful device; it’s the kind of thing that makes for a good discussion between bookish friends.

For me, the bulk of that discussion would centre around the stories’ endings; often the final scenes are particularly dynamic. It’s not so much that they offer a new piece of information that you might want to discuss, but that they reveal that you didn’t have all the information that you thought you had to start with, that you hadn’t even quite understood what was missing.

There are quotes and discussion of specific stories here, in my longer response to this collection, if you're keen. ( )
  buriedinprint | Feb 21, 2011 |
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Play the monster blind: The father was drinking again, in celebration.
Ice-cream man: You think you must not look the way you feel.
Batter my heart: You see it there, every time on the way back to the old man's.
Jesus Christ, Murdeena: Her mother would tell you it started with the walks.
Look, and pass on: The thing was eighteen and she wore her dead grandmother's underpants.
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An exhilarating collection of short fiction, Play the Monster Blind showcases the remarkably original voice of Lynn Coady, the award-winning author of Strange Heaven. Funny, poignant and smart, full of unforgettable characters, these stories explore the violence of family, the constraints of small-town life and the elusive promise of escape. In "Ice Cream Man," an adolescent girl struggles to come to terms with her mother's death and her father's seeming indifference while conducting a secret affair with an older man from the local arena. Gerald, the young boy in "Big Dog Rage," goes to extreme and reckless measures to thwart the expectations of his parents, teachers, and the local priest, leaving his childhood friend to look longingly on. And in the title story, Bethany sees her gentle fiancé anew as she enters the raucous world of his hard-drinking family. Receiving a sharp shot to the mouth from her future sister-in-law Bethany finds her place in this clan secured. With her incisive, resonant prose, Lynn Coady elicits laughter, sadness, and compassion. Play the Monster Blind is a keenly observed, imaginative collection from one of the most distinctive talents to arrive on Canada's literary scene in years.

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