BLASTED Book Review – Nfld Quarterly

Newfoundland Quarterly
Book Review
December 2008

By Kate Story
Killick Press 2008
290 pages $21.95

“I remember being heartbroken at fifteen. It is easy to belittle adolescent loves; perhaps it is too painful to
remember, too frightening. Those earliest loves have everything to do with what kind of trouble we get into
later, for the rest of our lives.”

Ruby Jones is in trouble all right, a whole bunch of different kinds. She grew up on the Southside, an odd,
fierce, vulnerable girl, and now motorcycles her way around Toronto, an indifferent waitress, an inspiring art
model, a raging drunk, a fool for love, a worry to her good friends. But her early loves are not the only
explanation for her various woes. True, when the novel opens, she’s just plunged headfirst into an affair
with Clyde, a svelte and debonair bike courier who is exactly just the sort your friends warn you against
(and hers warn her against). But she’s also forgotten about a work shift, passed out after a massive bout of
drinking (again), gotten locked out of her apartment (where she’s overdue on the rent, probably)…she’s a
mess. She definitely needs to straighten out before she finds herself jobless, homeless and buddyless.

But her situation is more complex than a few bad romantic choices. There are other wild and interfering
aspects to her background, not just her misspent passions. Most significantly, both her parents are dead,
victims of a car accident one Halloween. She was raised by her grandparents, who were both curiously
distanced from her, and her need for their love. Her coevals at school were a ragtag crowd, highly prone to
misbehaviour. She ran rampant through her adolescence, and then ran away from home. She’s found a
crowd in Toronto, artists and musicians and some of the beautiful people. But something has…followed

Then her grandfather calls, with bad news. Of course, this is very much a family used to bad news. It
seems to stalk them, may even be part of their physical make-up. Ruby’s grandfather certainly thinks so,
thinks she’s inherited the “bad blood” of his mother, and his son, who both embarked on mysterious
journeys that took them far from the families, and from which, in a sense, from they never returned.

Ruby flies home to Newfoundland, and this setting of Southside kitchens and buses to the Mall is cleanly
intercut with a current urban Toronto of lofts, galleries, and bars (especially bars). The time, in both places,
shifts deftly from present to past, building up the drama, dilemma and tension, just as the modern pattern
of intermittent work and hodgepodge lodgings is embedded, deeply, with myth and lore of Newfoundland.
Chief among them is the folktale of the changeling:

“It was only a photo of a baby, another photo of my baby father, badly taken, blurry; he’d moved as the
camera’d gone off, maybe the flash had gotten into his eyes. Gleaming eyes, dark, no whites, and flat, twin
sparks of cold star-white where each pupil should be. His heavy head turned in a curiously adult posture,
as if he’d been surprised at something. The child’s lipless mouth hung slightly open, and his teeth
gleamed over the tender tongue where no teeth should be, surely, in a baby so young. Vicious. Vicious,
angry, ancient baby.”

This intrusion of a possible supernatural world into Ruby’s own, struggling, one is highly disruptive and, it
increasingly seems, very dangerous. More than this, there is a stirring undercurrent of how such tales – not
just of Newfoundland but also of Cree Indian, not just of the little people but also of the lost Beothuk people
– may funnel into some cultural explanations of mental illnesses. Altogether the narrative tide of Blasted
lifts its themes and characters and carries them forward in an irresistible flow. Throughout, Story writes
with energy, vivacity, a lack of self-pity, a clear eye for detail, and a great sense of comic timing. This is a
wonderful novel.

– N. Q.


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