by SHARON HUNT
By Kate Story
Killick Press, 2008
‘Blast’ is defined in the Dictionary of Newfoundland English as a wound created by fairy activity. Ruby
Jones – the main character in Kate Story’s debut novel – has been blasted. Maybe that’s why Ruby is such a
mess … maybe she’s been fairy struck.
Whatever or whoever is at fault, Ruby just can’t seem to get it together. She’s in Toronto, working as a
waitress in a dive of a place with a snake of a boss, and she’s thinking of St. John’s and the Southside
Hills where she grew up. She rides a motorcycle (which seems to be one of the few uncomplicated joys in
her life), drinks too much, and hopes that some guy named Clyde will call her, like he promised he would.
Ruby’s naivety is alternately frustrating and endearing. There is also a poignancy – this little girl (she calls
herself a freak) in a woman’s body – that makes you root for her. At the same time, you what to shake some
sense into her because she is one of those people we all know, someone who can never seem to get their
lives together, lurching from one disaster to the next.
Still, for all her flaws, she is intriguing. No cookie cutter tragic soul here. For one thing, Ruby is obsessed
with the spirit of the last Beothuk, Shanawdithit. As she tells it:
“The image that haunted me most was Shanawdithit’s head … We’d all grown
up with the story that after she died of tuberculosis and was given a Christian
burial, some white guys had cut off her head and pickled it in the interest of
medical science … I knew that Shanawdithit still walked the Southside Hills …
because I’d seen her.”
Ruby is also obsessed with a more recent and more personal past, that of her own family. There are
troubles and tragedies in that past, too. When her grandmother – with whom she’s had a difficult
relationship – dies, she heads back to Newfoundland, as she always knew she would. After all, as she
explains, “part of me had kept my bags packed … ever since I’d left, ready to go home.”
Blasted moves easily, back and forth, from past and present. Kate Story is a good story-teller. She has
created characters that you want to know more about, and has skillfully woven the folklore of this place
through the folklore of her characters’ own tales.
She has a great ear for dialogue. She also uses humour – such a saving grace – to great effect in the book.
Although things may be bleak, there is always laughter, thank goodness.
Kate Story was born and grew up in St. John’s and gives the city an authentic tone that only a local can. In
addition to Blasted, she has written short fiction, and is also a performer – some of her pieces have been
produced as plays – and a choreographer. She uses all these skills skillfully in this, her first novel. (There
is a sense that Ruby is putting on a performance of her life, if only to keep her interested and the flowing
quality of the writing reminds me of the fluidity of dance.)
Blasted is a terrific debut from a writer with a unique voice.