Something About the Animal: Stories

Biblioasis, 2011

something about the animal

“a collection of superbly crafted and keenly insightful stories … densely layered and complexly structured, showing us generations’ worth of histories, loves and expectations with an enviable economy of style.”

“Cathy Stonehouse performs a delicate balancing act with her first book by presenting troubling subject matter with precise and expressive prose … Something About the Animal brings us to a dark place but leaves just enough light on to make it through the night.”
—The Rover

“Cathy Stonehouse’s debut collection contains one heartbreaking situation after another: sexual abuse, mental illness, loneliness, and death pervade the book. However, Stonehouse’s spare prose reveals the hidden layers of her vulnerable characters with great precision, making it difficult to turn away.

“Keeping Mum” is split into three separate perspectives — Falklands War veteran Kev, his mother, and his father. Kev’s perspective is the most devastating as he teeters between jumbled war memories and lucidity. Stonehouse describes his battle with PTSD in a way that is simultaneously horrible and lovely: “I don’t know if I am alive anymore, or if I’m one of those bags of canvas filled with blood and bone fragments they’re calling brave.”

Despite the sombre material, Stonehouse can be darkly funny. In “Child Abuse,” she describes an animal psychic who takes care of a Ritalin-popping dog that does “pawlates” and takes private yoga classes. And Gaynor, the confused kid mourning her mother’s death in “A Special Sound,” repeatedly recites the incorrect words to what she calls the “necklace prayer”: “Hey old Mary, full of grace, the law deals with thee. Blessed art thou, a monk’s woman, and, blessed tart, the Fruit-of-thy-Loom, Jesus.”

Stonehouse also manages to sneak snippets of hope into the pervading darkness. Women abused, used, or rescued by men hatch independence plans. Some even succeed in breaking free. A tired, disappointed single mother realizes she doesn’t have to live in her ex-husband’s shadow. A teenaged girl manages to escape the home of her best friend’s killer. All are surrounded by ghosts, but in every case, life goes on.”
—Chelsea Murray, a reviewer in Toronto.

Cathy Stonehouse; $19.95 paper 978-1-89723-198-2, 224 pp., Biblioasis, April Reviewed from bound galleys

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