Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve. Carol Shields Republic of Love

Suzette Mayr’s Venous Hum (2004)

Suzette Mayr’s Venous Hum
Arsenal Pulp, 2004

Yes, that’s right: it’s a mouth. Somehow too many canines, pink fleshy tongue: it’s the cover of Venous Hum. Eye-catching from the start, but it makes more sense after you’ve finished reading.

“It’s an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence announcing the end of writing as you know it, and the beginning of something new.” This is from the back cover, but don’t read the rest  if you prefer to discover stories on your own terms.

Still, it’s understandable why Arsenal Pulp sought to tell readers that Venous Hum is not like other stories. If they have beginnings and middles and ends and character types and plot arcs. This novel is not like the Canlit you’ve read. If that’s Margaret Laurence and Miriam Toews.

No, Suzette Mayr’s third novel is something else. And, yes, it has teeth.

Sure it’s a high school story, coming-of-age in western Canada. Kids put on a performance of “The Mikado”. Lai Fun has her first kiss. And it’s a suburban tale of marital disconnection and the loneliness of young mothers.

But. Stone griffins that guard bridges appear in unexpected places. Wedding cakes are vegan, not cream-soaked and fatty. A lesbian cheats on her wife, not with a woman, but with her best friend’s husband. A baby bottle is filled with beef blood, not milk.

It’s about ordinary things. High-school reunions. Parent-teacher conferences. Marriage counselling. But Lai Fun’s story is extraordinary.

“Lai Fun feels like the Grinch in Whoville — she wants to grab them all by the eyelids and yank their eyeballs open to see that school wasn’t fun, school was a horror movie.”

If the Grinch is ultimately a tale of transformation, so is Venous Hum. It won’t be to every reader’s taste. (Neither is the recipe Lai Fun’s mother shares: “Louve’s Deep-fried Fingers in Black Bean Sauce (can also be done with toes)”.

Honestly, it’s not to my preferred taste either. But it’s fresh, entertaining, and it surprised me. I think I could use a little more of that in my reading diet.

And now I’m doubly curious about The Widows. Have you read this Canadian writer’s work?

PS I plucked this from my shelves because it fit the “V” category in the A-Z Titles Reading Challenge, and it also satisfied the fifth element in the TwentyTen Reading Challenge, because I purchased it in support of the Friends of the Library Charity.

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