Milo is 37 years old and hates everything. He hates his father, a bitter widower who has mysteriously disappeared. He hates his co-workers in the junk removal business, both of whom have moved into his house. He even hates his acting career since he lost his skills while method-acting his way through a production of Waiting for Godot.
Milosz, Cordelia Strube’s ninth novel, published by Toronto’s steadfast independent Coach House Books, is about one man learning to let go of his bad feelings and to accept the chaos of his life.
At the opening of the novel Milo’s intense hate makes him a seething mass of rudeness and f-bombs. He also possesses a reverse Midas touch: even when he’s motivated by good intentions, everything Milo touches turns to shit. For example, while trying to help his autistic neighbour Robertson, Milo accidentally hospitalizes various people. Milosz’s pages are littered with plans that rapidly go sideways and accidents with significant consequences.
Unfortunately for Milo, he isn’t alone. As the novel progresses, more and more people move into his house. First come Pablo and Wallace, his co-workers. Together they make a noxious trio, exchanging insults, racial slurs and $20 bills for small favours. In the scenes where they watch TV from the comfort of their easy chairs, the reader can almost smell their stale beer farts.
Next to move in is Vera, Wallace’s mother visiting from England, who cooks a different meat pudding for every meal. Then, through a series of strange events involving a reality show, Milo’s assumed-to-be-dead father Gus takes up residence. Suffering from amnesia, he is no longer the bitter man he was before. The new Gus speaks only Polish, a language that neither Milo nor any of the other residents of the house understand. Last to arrive is Tawny, a law student from an unspecified First Nations community, whom Milo met during a bizarre immersive theatre exercise in the woods north of Toronto.
While some of the plot points designed to get these characters under the same roof are far-fetched and at times tiresome, the novel improves once the cast is assembled in the same place. Together these wayward souls form a kind of low-rent therapeutic community. While Milo holds on to his hurt, Pablo preaches the benefits of letting go. Passing on the wisdom of his new age therapist, Pablo advises Milo that “We leave energy impressions on each other…That is why it is so important to forgive. You don’t want to leave negative impressions for all time.”
Milosz begins slowly, with several chapters of hurt people hurting people, and is at times disjointed, but gradually the underlying trauma behind Milo’s bitterness is revealed. Only once he understands the origins of his terrible feelings can Milo figure out how to go about dealing with them. With Milosz, Strube makes it clear that empathy and community can help heal some emotional scars. Although Milo tries to hold on to his hurt for as long as possible, by the end of the novel he finally begins the process of letting go of his resentments. ■
Milosz, by Cordelia Strube, 2012, Coach House 300 pp., $19.95 paperback
Jeff Miller is the author of the award-winning short story collection Ghost Pine: All Stories True (Invisible Publishing, 2010). He lives and drinks coffee in Little Italy.