Canadian Literature loves Stunt

Outside the Ordinary
By Jodi Lundgren
Canadian Literature
December 20 2009

‘In Claudia Dey’s first novel, Stunt, the ordinary has no quarter whatsoever. Raised and eventually abandoned by an erratic, bipolar father and a diva mother, the nine-year-old narrator, Eugenia, and her ‘Irish twin’ Immaculata, have no opportunity to establish mundane routines. Fiercely loyal to her father, Eugenia searches for him throughout the novel, both in memory and in the present.

The relentlessly extraordinary nature of the characters and events makes for a demanding, unpredictable read. Dey does not reach simply for bizarre, mythic characters (like the metal-detecting diver who lives on a houseboat turning jetsam into jewelry), or quirky macabre situations (like Immaculata’s hobby of preserving rodents in formaldehyde). Even incidental passages unfold a wealth of sensation and suggestion. For instance, Dey gets her characters from a houseboat to a beach on Toronto Island as follows:

‘[W]e run down to the channel … Some children dance between cottages in bright raincoats, pockets heavy with water, habitats for fish. Immaculata told me that goldfish grow depending on the space they are accorded. I see the children walking down to the lake and emptying their pockets there, returning day after day to wade into the water and stroke their giant fish, their hearts swelling and becoming nearly unbearable in their chests.’

Dey has revitalized the coming-of-age novel into a touching odyssey in which surreal experiences, such as aging nine years overnight or ‘walking on a wire that is fastened to nothing but the night air,’ become accessible via a universal theme: no matter how Dionysian the father figure, he must be overcome. Dey allows us to see growing up as a feat – a stunt – parallel to none.’

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