C.P. Boyko on “Rock and a Hard Place”

Psychology & Other Stories coverC.P. Boyko’s Psychology and Other Stories is full of deep character studies, like the sexually confused boarding school student of “Reaction-Formation” or the sociopathic escaped mental patient of “Eat the Rich and Shit the Poor.” Boyko settles into his stories, then slowly explores their edges—at novella length, he can afford to take his time. Earlier this year, he read a short story by another Canadian writer he found equally immersive, which he tells us about here.

I have become disenchanted with first-person narration, but “Rock and a Hard Place” by Trevor Clark (in his collection Escape and Other Stories) makes me believe in it again. The story is desultory without being maundering, the narrator candid without sounding pompous or declamatory, and the voice gritty and realistic without resort to a prose that is sloppy or illiterate. The story is packed with event—it is written as a sort of unabashed confession by a 29-year-old single mother trying to quit smoking crack—and at the end of thirty dense, harrowing pages, one feels as if one has heard her entire life story. That’s quite a feat. Here are two typical paragraphs:

I remember this lease-breaking party I had so I could move out of my apartment. The neighbours were used to me cranking up my stereo, but I think they were all afraid to complain because they’d heard me yelling and ranting so often. I really outdid myself that night. A little while ago I ran into this guy I know who told me he’d never forget it. I asked, “Were you there?”

“Was I there? I was in the middle of doing a hash toke on the stove with hot knives when all the power got cut off.” The superintendent wanted to close down the stereo so he blacked out the apartment. People were throwing beer bottles, glasses, and just about everything off the balcony. They still wouldn’t break my lease, though.

There are some other great stories in this collection, too.

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9 December 2012 | selling shorts |