Strange Heaven

by Lynn Coady

published by Goose Lane Editions

1998, 198 pages

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Strange Talent

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


One of the delightful things about reviewing books is being in the privileged position of coming across young talent. With the sheer number of books published each year, it only stands to reason that some of the tomes that cross our busy desks will be stunningly non-noteworthy. Boring -- or worse -- even bad. The sort of books that make you wish you could just ignore them and hope they go away.

And then there are the others. Stories so fresh and characters so real, they take your breath away. Strange Heaven by Lynn Coady is one of these. Fresh and raw and utterly unselfconscious. A book so entirely without guile and so completely of the earth, it's impossible to read it and wonder if the author isn't beating a whole new path.

Bridget saw that there was an etiquette where death was concerned. Just like everything else. And Jennifer MacDonnell, who had never been called Jenny in her life, had sunk entirely beneath the horizon. Something else was being erected in her place. She was queen of the prom, on her parent's mantelpiece forever, now.

Coady's prose is spare: she takes you places without a lot of preamble or wasted breath. Touching, humorous and completely memorable, it's high prose for the MTV generation, but it's impactful no matter where you're standing.

Visitors were the worst thing.

Heidi often came up on the weekends with her mother to shop. She told Bridget she could join them anytime she wanted, but Bridget told her she wasn't allowed -- the whole time knowing she could get a pass from Solomon whenever she wanted. She was low-maintenance, as far as patients went, and that was probably why they were impatient for her to be on her way. She did nothing. She exhibited no signs. She did not cry all the time like Kelly the anorexic, or explode like Byron and have to be put in the quiet room where he'd sit cross-legged and howl like a hound. She had begun to think maybe she should do something but couldn't think what. Her only misdemeanour had been sarcasm, which Gabby didn't appreciate. "I don't appreciate that, Miss Murphy. And if you think I appreciate that, you're wrong."

But Bridget, we learn, is more than sarcastic. As the book opens, we find her in the mental ward of a children's hospital where she's been confined after giving her illegitimate child up for adoption. Her doctors have decided that she's apathetic and a rest cure is the only thing that'll put it right.

What we discover in Coady's Strange Heaven, however, is a world that is at least slightly askew through the eyes of a teenager who -- despite strained circumstances -- seems entirely whole. The result is an oddly satisfying bite of real life. Bridget is precocious but -- ultimately -- likable and Coady shows herself to be a novelist with wit and a knack for looking at that which is grittiest in everyday life. | March 1999


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine. Her fourth novel, Blue Murder, will be published early in 2008 by St. Martin's Minotaur.