Strange Heaven - Lynn Coady
First Read: January 1999
Second Read: January 2005
Capsule: A sad but entertaining first novel from one of Canada's next-generation authors.
Trade Paperback: 198 pages
Goose Lane Editions
Lynn Coady has for the last few years been hailed as one of the next generation of great Canadian writers. This was her first novel, published eight years ago now, and in my opinion still her best work. Since this Cape Breton-born east coaster moved out to Vancouver, her work has smacked, ever-so-slightly, of something she actually lamented in an article in This Magazine some time ago: the insincerity of Lotusland; this book, by contrast, displays an uncontrived portraiture that interweaves both 90s irony and ghost town heartbreak.
Bridget is on a "rest cure" in the children's mental hospital after giving up an illegitimate child for adoption. Flashbacks tell the tale of her pregnancy, and the reactions of her friends and family show the utter helplessness we all feel as we hurtle through life without a script. High school superstars are eternally stalled under the weight of their respective teenaged labels, working dead end jobs to pay for weekend drinking binges and endless revolving girlfriends and boyfriends. Bridget only recognises this when one of them turns up dead: "[Jenny] was queen of the prom, on her parents' mantelpiece forever, now." Her epiphany, told over a quickly-read 200 pages, is both tragic and hilarious, and its consistency is what Coady has yet failed to match in her subsequent work.
I've been pleased with Coady's decision to keep her hands wet in journalism. She's a heavyweight essayist, in my opinion, and her work between novels in publications like This Magazine, and more recently The Globe and Mail Review, ensures her voice will be heard for a long time to come.