The Cloaca

The Cloaca

Andrew Hood, 160 pgs, Invisible Publishing, invisiblepublishing.com, $16.95

This collection opens with an epigraph featuring quotes from both F. Scott Fitzgerald and Adam Sandler. These colliding sensibilities give the reader the basic parameters of Andrew Hood’s world; in one corner, there’s unflinching storytelling, and in the other, an impudent fascination with bodies. Case in point: The Cloaca is the title of this collection but also refers to the lower intestine (and corresponding opening) in birds and other lower mammals (take my advice, don’t Google image search it). It is a collision of leitmotifs that yield some interesting results.

Corbet, Ontario — the fictitious small town that comes up more than once in these stories — brings to mind many of the pains and disappointments of childhood. Correspondingly, nearly all the stories are premised on some embarrassment or other: a doomed scheme to get rich selling baseball cards, being late for a job interview, living as a slacker house-sitter, being a consummate beginner at any and all things, and worse. In Hood’s stories, this bleakness is tempered with bodily imagery — sometimes as bathroom humour, sometimes as grotesque window dressing. In all cases, Hood finds some impossible way to marry the deadpan pessimism of Raymond Carver with the humour of South Park. Bodies and body parts are unpleasantly described in relation to even grosser body parts. An overweight customer has “baby penis fingers;” a woman’s “pink bum” is “stink-eyeing us;” and in another story a man’s genitals retreat into his body like a “turtle head.” The grotesque imagery would be almost too much to bear if it weren’t so ridiculous. And while I find at times the characters and their motivations are a little over-explained, there is little doubt that Andrew Hood knows how to construct a story, leaving enough ambiguity so as not to erase all the mystery. These narratives, far from resolved, peter out into an uneasy reality, leaving the reader a little unsettled and a little amused. (Chris Landry).

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