A reviewer on Goodreads had this to say about Hellgoing which made me laugh: “I don’t like books that make me feel stupid.”
Hellgoing didn’t exactly make me feel stupid, but I was left a little perplexed after some of the stories because I would arrive at the ending and not understand what had just happened. I never got the point of some stories. I had a similar experience reading Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro a few months ago which makes me wonder if I’m just too inexperienced with this type of storytelling to appreciate it yet.
Hellgoing is a collection of nine short stories by Canadian author, Lynn Coady. The stories feature a number of complex characters each with their own hellish demons and obsessions, failures and unrequited dreams. In 2013, the collection won the Scotiabank Giller Prize, a prestigious literary award here in Canada.
Hellgoing is a stunning tour de force of writing and I liked it because it captured the idiosyncrasies of regular people that one may catch a glimpse of, but probably choose to ignore because it’s just too weird to go there. But Lynn Coady’s writing has punch and humour, so you feel less intimidated getting to know some of these wacked characters so intimately. There are quite a few memorable stories, but I think my favourite was Take This and Eat It which is about a pretty laidback nun at a hospital who becomes disgusted by the self-destructive behaviour of others.
The “wait, what?” factor that plagues some of these stories as a result of not enough backstory, details about characters and abrupt, ambiguous endings. However, is this just the way it is with short stories?
The more and more I look back on the short stories in Hellgoing, the more I appreciate their unique qualities. I realize now that maybe there is no point, no lesson to be learned, that it is all a snapshot of a moment when characters are caught up in their emotional baggage. What a tremendous feat to translate that craziness into a story and Lynn Coady has my respect for doing so with Hellgoing.
But what about those sudden endings, gaps and lack of details? Is this common in short stories? How do you feel about short stories written in this manner?