Arthur Reviewer finds westhead's cooked and eaten performance delicious

By Iris Hodgson
Arthur

This article is about dreams come true. Jessica Westhead has written a hilarious novel called Pulpy and Midge, from which she read at last Monday’s Cooked and Eaten reading series. Her book came out just last week from Coach House Books. For Jessica Westhead, that is a dream come true. But here’s the better news: Westhead is a Trent graduate. She has an English degree. She works as a writer and editor. Take heart, fellow English majors! Westhead has become the hero of Trent humanities students. Nevermore will we make an uncomfortable face and a mumbling noise after being told that that our options upon graduation can only be teaching or serving french fries. (Not that I’m saying those things are equivalent, you hear!) Jessica Westhead is living the dream. And she is good at what she does.

In fact, and I want to say this right at the very start so we can clear me of any bias by thoroughly exposing it, Jessica Westhead is making my dreams come true. The good folks at Coach House contacted us to ask if we would like a free copy of Pulpy and Midge to review. Free! Of course we wanted one! The editors of this paper asked me if I would like to go to this event. I have officially been paid to review a free book! I officially declare this moment to be my entry into the elite world of literary criticism and an escape from the world of fast food service. It seems that, as a literary reviewer, I am positively influenced by free books. Keep sending them my way, everybody. Thanks Coach House! I will now discuss Pulpy and Midge and the Cooked and Eaten.

Pulpy and Midge is about Pulpy, a young man with an unusual nickname (he drank a lot of orange juice in college) and his quirky and passionate wife Midge. They are enjoying their marriage and hobbies until their days of candle saleswomanship, ice dancing lessons, and keyboard serenades are interrupted by time spent with Pulpy’s new boss. Dan-the-boss hires his wife Beatrice, who makes life at work awkward for Pulpy, especially after Beatrice takes a shine to multiple men about the office, in multiple locations around the office, if you know what I mean. Dan and Beatrice befriend Pulpy and Midge and manipulate them into spending their formerly quiet evenings at dinner parties, shopping excursions, and marathon sessions of binge drinking. Clinky clink! Pulpy and Midge find themselves unable to escape this intrusion into their lives, and neither one of them are able to find the confidence necessary to put a stop to the social engagements and bullying.

“Jessica Westhead handles...situations with empathy and humour, and a keen ability to replicate an awkward conversation like the ones you’ve been trying to forget yourself.”

The novel is an exploration of personal space, of how quiet manipulators can cause major upheaval, and about the importance not only of being unique but of asserting that identity, no matter the cost. Westhead handles these situations with empathy and humour, and a keen ability to replicate an awkward conversation like the ones you’ve been trying to forget yourself.

One of the themes of the novel is the psychological stress that comes from repeated instances of bullying. One side effect of this topic is that witnessing Pulpy and Midge putting up with the same situation over and over can make even the most winning protagonists wear on you slightly. They are unable to say no to things that make them deeply uncomfortable which can be hard for the reader to put up with, especially when you are rooting for Pulpy to just tell Dan off already! There is only so much subtle bullying and drunken recklessness that one can take.

But that problem evaporated as soon as I saw Jessica Westhead read from her novel this week. The trick is to imagine Westhead doing all the voices! Her rendition of the bitter secretary brought the house down, every time. My advice for readers of this book is, I suppose, time travel. Because if you were right there as Westhead delivered the receptionist’s dialogue in a perfect deadpan, and mimicked Dan-the-arrogant-boss’ irritating corporate-style double entendres, you would understand just how funny the book is, through and through, especially in those awkward moments.

If you were there, you would have had the added privilege of seeing Westhead impersonating a publishing house rep, donning a suit jacket and tie. She had brought along a flip chart of illustrations that played on running jokes in Pulpy and Midge. One picture showed exactly the ideal ratio of sweet vs. too sweet in order to help you pick a cake for your next office function, another the unlikely probability that the picture of the garden in your “Gardens of the World” calendar is, in fact, your own garden. These jokes are actually all contained in Pulpy and Midge, though, so if you buy the book you can read them all yourself!

Kidding aside, though, you should have been there. The Cooked and Eaten is one of many examples of events which are put together by talented Peterborough arty people and which showcases local writers. The Trent audience at this event is always quite small, and that’s a shame. It is one example of where the Peterborough and Trent communities don’t come together, which is a missed opportunity for students and faculty. This week you also missed Liana Brodie, former Trent writer in residence, who acted out portions of her new play, Schoolhouse. Tim Etherington’s short story of workplace angst and the fall of the Berlin wall impressed me with its introspective depth and deeply ironic protagonist: “I couldn’t believe that my job was conflicting with the end of the 20th century”, Etherington’s story begins. Finally, Jonathan Bennett, who teaches creative writing at Trent, read several of his poems, with topics ranging from conservation to medical malaise.

The next Cooked and Eaten event will be held in an undisclosed location, since Cervantes didn’t have enough seating for all who came. The website should be updated soon to reflect the date and time of the November offering. Check http://www.cookedandeaten.com.

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