Andrew Hood is a real fucker. He’s also among the most eloquent and funniest bastards I’ve ever met. He’s a guy who will just tilt his head back, stretch his mouth out to the side like a cantankerous colonel and let out a fearless, intelligent spew of wit. It’s disarming to hear him talk, and equally so to read him.
His narrators are cloaked versions of this bottomless well of his own imaginative, sour voice. And it’s the voice that’s on display at every turn. The Cloaca is his second collection of short stories, out via Invisible Publishing, based in Halifax, Hood’s newly adopted home.
Invisible is, endearingly, “committed to working with writers who might not ordinarily be published and distributed commercially.” In Andrew Hood’s case, though, I’m not so sure he’d have such trouble finding support. His first collection, Pardon Our Monsters, was published by Montreal’s Véhicule Press in 2007, when he was just 24 and a fresh graduate of Concordia’s creative writing department. That book won him the Writers’ Union of Canada’s Danuta Gleed Award.
While the first collection focused largely on the delirium of youth, The Cloaca aims to capture the vacuum of meaning that can strand the no longer young. For Hood it seems less about looking back, more about looking around. The themes of his books overlap largely in their blunt, unromantic portrayal of small town life. This second collection, however, digs deep into the disillusionment, self-loathing and petty obsessions of characters for whom happiness or fulfillment, in any sort of typically understood way, are no longer possible.
These are people Hood most certainly sees in himself, a way of making theatre out of a self-loathing that he’ll readily admit to. (My guess is I’m not the only one who can relate). They’re also characters he likely encountered growing up in Guelph, Ontario — a place that, as you may know, has a particular vibe, a blend of small-town Ontario practicality with environmentalist-leaning University hippiedom. The two sides of this moral chasm, and the internal conflict that Hood most certainly feels as a result of it, are vividly and hilariously portrayed in these eight stories.
A cloaca, as bird poo enthusiasts would know, is the single orifice through which a bird emits its poo-pee mix. It’s not number 2, not 1, it’s 3! Hood’s choice of such a name is a clue to anyone out to understand the mind behind these dense, dark tales.
He picks apart the things that make us revolting to each other — our foul smells, our flab, our physical deformities, our vices and failures — and he insists that they’re beautiful enough to dwell on. It’s not out of sympathy for the characters or in service of a moral. It’s not simply for shock or humour, though the stories are nasty and hilarious as all hell. The revelation comes in the way this lucid voice, the doomed, vivid characters and the more universal hopelessness that they portray combine to feel right and true.
Take the line that ends “The Shrew’s Dilemma,” one of five or six just awesome stories (of eight total) in the book: “And what is love, really, this woman thinks to herself, if not selfish.” It may not be what you want to think of love, but I dare you to consider any romance you’ve been part of through that lens and see if you don’t feel it in your gut.
It’s not that Andrew Hood is out to ruin your day. Some people just see more beauty in ugly things, and he is definitely one of them. ■
The Cloaca, 2012, 138 pp., $16.95 paperback, Invisible Publishing