Lynn Coady’s Hellgoing (2013)

Reading Hellgoing makes me wonder about Lynn Coady’s personal relationships.

Not for the obvious reasons that other readers might identify, stories like “Body Condom” and “Play the Monster Blind”.

But because I imagine that in order to write a short story, she disappears for a spell.

I imagine she crawls inside the skin of her latest narrator. And not just figuratively, but literally.

Pieces of writing advice swirl in my mind. I think of playlists, Pinterest pages, lists of pocket contents, memory maps, sketches, shopping lists and photographs culled from flea markets.

I think of flaying, a raw and visceral tableau, of the overwhelming smells and sounds as the writer lifts the skin and, lip-curlingly, allows this fresh and gutsy form to take hold.

Hellgoing Coady

House of Anansi – Astoria, 2013

Because with each of the stories in Hellgoing, I feel as though Lynn Coady wholly and completely inhabits that imagined world.

And not simply because they are vivid. Or because each story adds to a sense of growing familiarity.

But because these stories are distinct. (This is also reflected in the design, which dedicates a full title page to each individual story.)

And, often, distinctly unsettling.

It makes me think that there is a little of Jane in the author.

“The single-mindedness is what’s key, the tunnel vision – precisely what’s required and precisely what makes you seem a freak to the rest of the world. Visionaries and drinkers: obsessed with away, looking for else.”

Well, having questioned the author’s personal relationships, why hesitate in drawing a comparison to a character who observes that single-mindedness is the mark of a freak?

Anyway, I really like Jane. And her theory on single-mindedness.

I like that she admires Jean Rhys’ writing but disavows herself from those heroines who lie back on a head and allow an arm to fall across their eyes.

I like that she stares at her surroundings head-on (even if things are a little blurry sometimes).

And I like stories that smack you out of your own head for a time.

I like the tingly bit that reading a story like that leaves behind, the mark on a reader’s skin of bold-telling.

For me, the most powerful bits of these stories reside in their emotional resonance.

“Back then, she told everybody everything – every shameful detail. She couldn’t have shut up if she tried. And people believed her, they heard her, they were every bit as angry as she was. She was soaring on outrage, the energy of having it released, as if she’d been flung from a slingshot.”
Clear Skies

“Where the actual subject under discussion didn’t matter because all they really wanted was to feel each other’s voices buzzing in their bodies.”
An Otherworld

“That was the earliest lesson, when it came to vigilance, the giddiest lesson. You flew to the end of the road no matter what the flag was doing, you didn’t hesitate, you stood up on your toes and had a look either way. You could never trust the flag.”

“She felt the clump of rage she’d swallowed in the car nudge its way upward from her stomach, lodge centre-chest and pop like a blister.”
Body Condom

“My mind, which I had lately been so proud of, grappled with him; tried to feel its way around him and settle on something – some kind of soft spot – that would allow it to relax.”
Mr. Hope

These are stories of extreme states: outrage, infatuation, joy, fury, confusion.

Frequently, they present characters who are captured in a moment of disorientation.

And, yet, there is something most determinedly assured about the reader’s experience of that state.

Occasionally, there is a delicate bit which almost painfully exposes the moment of epiphany.

“The phrase wheeled around in her head, clanging, like a pot-lid dropped and spinning across a kitchen floor.”
Dogs in Clothes

“(And I’ll tell you something about my memory. It isn’t like memory at all. I don’t have to reach back. It’s all just there. Everything just settles in behind my eyes, accumulating into a giant clot.)”
Mr. Hope

A spontaneous trip to Newfoundland. An unreasonable fear of a “two-headed, tea-slurping father-thing”. A counterpoint of text messaging. A reluctant nun convinces an anorexic woman to take Communion. Couples debate the true nature of happiness. A daughter takes the kindness of strangers for granted.

Lynn Coady’s stories prick beneath the skin, and her characters pull back the tissue, so that something else – whole and fresh – emerges.

It’s hard to believe that a writer like this has anything left to give to anyone other than her readers after creating such fictions.

I cringe, I wince; I marvel, I admire. Hellgoing: a beautiful injury.

Wireless; Hellgoing; Dogs in Clothes; Take This and Eat It; An Otherworld; Clear Skies; The Natural Elements; Body Condom; Mr. Hope



  1. […] juries have recognised story collections in the past, with current jury member Lynn Coady’s Hellgoing winning in 2013 and Vincent Lam’s Bloodletting and Various Cures winning in 2006. Others have […]

  2. Melwyk November 5, 2013 at 9:54 pm - Reply

    I really enjoyed both The Antagonist & Mean Boy — and I suppose I should read this collection too, though it’s going to be a little harder to get my hands on the library copy now! 😉

    • Buried In Print November 6, 2013 at 9:46 am - Reply

      I’ve been “saving” Mean Boy; it’s one of those books that I’m so sure I will love that I keep setting it aside again (makes no sense, I know). And, yes, I’m guessing there will be some long library hold lists for this one now!

  3. Jules October 26, 2013 at 7:18 am - Reply

    I didn’t exactly love this collection, but I liked how the author had a lot of depth to the stories. There was more to each story than what was on the surface, and only reveals a feel hints at what the heart of the story is about. Otherworld and Mr. Hope are two that stood out for me.

    • Buried In Print October 30, 2013 at 10:33 am - Reply

      I think I know what you mean. It’s hard to love, as are many of the characters (and readers!), but the work is accomplished and rewards a closer look. It made me want to pull her other novels off the shelf that much more urgently. (I’ve been wanting/meaning to read Mean Boy for ages.

      • Jules November 7, 2013 at 6:19 am - Reply

        I might have to check out Mean Boy out. The Antagonist was okay for me, I enjoyed HellGoing a little more, so maybe Mean Boy will capture me, because I needed more books added to my TBR list.

        • Buried In Print November 7, 2013 at 8:01 am - Reply

          I know. I know. I have nothing to read. It’s terrible. *wink*

  4. Debbie Rodgers @Exurbanis October 18, 2013 at 9:36 am - Reply

    I read The Antagonist last year and stuck with it to the end because I was very interested in the subject matter. But the language made me put Lynn Coady on a permanent “do not read any more” list. What’s the ‘rating’ on this book?

    • Buried In Print October 18, 2013 at 9:41 am - Reply

      What about the language, Debbie? The kind of intensity that Rank’s character had in The Antagonist does surface in these stories too, for sure…

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