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.
About the author
Lynn Coady is a novelist and essayist whose fiction has been garnering acclaim since her first novel, Strange Heaven, was published and subsequently nominated for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction when she was twenty-eight. Her short story collection Hellgoing won the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canada’s most prestigious literary award, for which her novel The Antagonist was also nominated in 2011. Her books have been published in the UK, US, Holland, France, and Germany. Coady has been a journalist, magazine editor, and advice columnist, and is currently writing for television. She divides her time between Edmonton and Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @Lynn_Coady.
Excerpt: Play the Monster Blind (by (author) Lynn Coady)
The father was drinking again, in celebration. John said it bothered him. He remembered being three, tooling around town in the green station wagon with fake wood on the sides, watching his father drink. He would drink and visit his friends, at their homes or at the boxing club. He would pull into the driveway, pause to smile at John, take a quick couple of swallows before reaching over to unbuckle the boy. And he would hoist his young son inside to show him off, both of them pink-cheeked. He showed her a picture of himself then, his little hands tied inside of a pair of enormous boxing gloves, his father perched behind him, holding them up to take aim at a smiling, sweaty man in trunks.
John was strapping then, and he was strapping now. One of the first things the father told her was that they used to have to pin John into three layers of diapers, he was such a big eater. It was obvious the old man and he were close. The second evening after she and John arrived, she stayed inside doing dishes with the mother, and saw the two of them sitting out in plastic chairs on the lawn, facing the shed with rums in hand. The mother said, “That should keep him happy for a while,” and the plastic chairs sagged and quivered from the weight of men. The father was built all of hard, stubborn fat, but John was just big. They sat quietly torturing their lawn chairs together.
He told her he used to be fat. He was very sensitive about it. He told her he had never told that to anyone. In high school he stopped eating and started taking handfuls of vitamins, which made him thin and absent-minded, but his mother stopped buying them and he had no choice but to go back to eating. In university he just gave in to everything and ate and drank until he ballooned. Now he was approximately in the middle, a big man with a thick beard. When he was fourteen, his father had him collecting UI for all the dishwashing he had done at the family restaurant, because the workers didn’t know any better from the size of him. She had thought, when she met John, that he looked like a lumberjack. He wore plaid shirts and work boots whenever she saw him in class, not because it was fashionable, and not fashionably, but because it was what he wore. She learned where he was from and imagined they all must dress like that, that it must be a very welcoming place, rustic and simple and safe, like John himself.
When his sister showed up, pasty and in leather pants despite the August swelter, the first thing she said to him was, “Hey, you fat shit.” Bethany knew that they had not seen each other in a couple of years. He reached over and grabbed one of the sister’s wrists. Her knees buckled at once and effortlessly he turned her around, already sinking. Then he grabbed the other wrist and held them together in one large paw while guiding her face-first to the kitchen floor, using her wrists as a sort of steering apparatus. Then he sat on her.
“Pardon?” he kept saying.
“You fat bastard.”
The father sat nearby, laughing. The mother saying, “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny,” now, as she tried to move around them to the stove. Bethany and the sister were exactly the same age. She felt she should have something to say to her.
When the brother arrived, he at once began to beat and contort the sister in the same way, as if this were some sort of family ritual. She railed at him as he pulled her feet up behind her to meet her shoulders. Whereas John just used the sheer force of his bulk and his size, Hugh, smaller and wiry, was a dabbler in the martial arts. He said he used to box, like his father, but got bored with all the rules. Now he was interested in something called “shoot fighting,” which scarcely had any rules at all. He knew all sorts of different holds and manoeuvres, some of which he demonstrated on the sister for them. When he was finished – Ann yanking herself away, red-faced and hair awry and staggering towards the kitchen for a beer – he darted at John, head down and fists up. John responded in the way she had seen him do at bars whenever drunken men, maddened by his size, ran at him. The strategy was to reach out his big hands and simply hold the opponents at bay until they got tired and embarrassed.
Bethany thought of herself as an easygoing person and tried not to be nervous, but she and John were going to get married, and she knew that the family was striving to be civil in a way they were not used to. John kept cuffing his sister in the head whenever she said “goddamn ”or “cocksucker,” and quietly stating, “Dad,” when the father did the same. Bethany and the sister tried and tried to talk to each other, bringing up woman-things like belts and shampoo. She knew that the sister worked in theatre in Halifax and lived with a man who was thirty-five, and everyone was disappointed in her, but hoped she would soon turn her life around. It was touching the way the family spoke of Ann when she was out of the room. The father, overwhelming his armchair, ponderously clinking his ice cubes and turning to John.
“What do you think, me boy?”
“Well, who knows, boy.”
“She’s getting by,” the mother would say.
“But for how long?”
“We’ll talk to her at some point,” John promised, this being what the father was waiting to hear. The father was always turning to John and waiting to hear the right thing, and John always seemed to know what it was.
"Part of the delight and marvel of Coady's stories is their crazy energy: even though Play the Monster Blind is her debut collection, Coady swerves with a hardy veteran's knowing — her work is among the most noteworthy in the country." —National Post
"Stories told with uncommon dexterity and wisdom. Coady has a lively talent, writing with curiosity and warmth about the heartrending tangles of human connection." —The Globe and Mail
"Coady entertains, dazzles, instructs. Her stories manage to do what stories—do best: get at that bright kernel of things and vibrate in the imagination like light-shot gems." —The Toronto Star
"A stunning collection for the strong at heart, a more-than-worthy follow-up to her Governor-General's Award-nominated debut, Strange Heaven." —Vancouver Sun