'Valery the Great' is a crackling, electric collection of dark humour that follows the bizarre and beautiful lives of its eccentric protagonists. Sometimes sweet and gentle, sometimes sharply sarcastic, the unique narrative voices of this collection are always powerfully touching. In the title story, a young woman from New Brunswick uses figure skating as a way to fill the void left by her deceased father, and ends up as a Russian circus performer who dances on ice with two skating bears. We also meet an unlikely swim-team member, a crude and ineffective search and rescue volunteer, and Sparky, an ancient boxing trainer who recalls the tumultuous life of his childhood friend, a dwarf named Maurice. Throughout 'Valery the Great' we find characters who need to escape their lives, and in the attempt find alternate ways of living. they float outside of the harsh and unromantic everyday existence and into an alternate reality that allows them dreams of solace and fulfilled potential. McCluskey expertly mixes the dramatic with the deadpan to create a very readable and exciting collection, filled with characters who are connected by their longing to be heard.
"It may say something about Canada and Canadians that one of our canonical twentieth-century novels was called 'Beautiful Losers'. ...it's the many unique characters and settings that stay with the reader and make this collection well worth reading. Not all of McCluskey's losers are beautiful, but there is real beauty in 'Valery the Great,/i>." - Prairie Fire
"Masterfully crafted short stories expose remarkable qualities of ordinary people ...This whole collection is about the unusual. These are stories about people who are ordinary, people who don't stand out in the crowd and yet somehow, they do extraordinary things - although not necessarily good extraordinary things. McCluskey understands that somewhere in the hearts of us all is the desire to be recognized for what we do. Deep down, we want our lives to be special. This is an eclectic, darkly comedic collection, entertaining in their content and hard hitting in their message." - The Halifax Chronicle Herald
Elaine McCluskey is the author of the boxing novel 'Going Fast' (Goose Lane Editions, 2009). Her first short story collection, 'The Watermelon Social' was a Journey Prize finalist, published in the 'Journey Prize Stories' anthology by McClelland & Stewart in 2004. McCluskey lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.