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Suzanne A. Marsden #168

Suzanne A. Marsden

 

Hide Your Life Away by Carol Little. (Meanwhile Studios, 2008, 156 pp., $12.99)

 

 I had the pleasure of rereading Carol Little’s debut novel Hide Your Life Away recently. It had been a little while since I’d sunk into the snappy, clever dialogue-driven story and I was reminded of many of the reasons why I’d initially fallen in love with the slim volume.

     Penned during the famous 3-Day Novel Writing Contest in 2007, Hide Your Life Away doesn’t suffer from many of the potential pitfalls one would expect from such a grueling exercise. Instead, it is enervated by the challenge. The writing is fresh, the characters are a lot of fun and their voices are unique and engaging.

     A few years ago, poet T. Anders Carson paraphrased a quote about Vincent Van Gogh. He said that it was one thing to truly love Van Gogh’s work and to have it on one’s living room wall, and quite another to have the artist himself, sitting on the living room couch and having to deal with him personally. The lead in HYLA (Jason Mahoney) is such a character. He has very few redeeming qualities; the only one that has any merit is what his pursuing girlfriend defines as “honesty”.

   For all of this honesty, Mahoney is a slacker, an unsure teen in a grown-up’s body, wrestling with his own delayed coming-of-age experiences. During the period of the book (which takes place over a weekend as well), we are introduced to Jason’s past, his parents, his experiences in school, his non-existent life goals and his phobias.

   A great foil to Jason, who would rather slide quietly through life and be left alone to enjoy his Star Trek DVDs, is his best friend andom. The moocher and somewhat innocent labourer comes across in brilliant colour: more a Shakespearean clown than someone you’d care to repair a roof with at 3:00am (although that is exactly what he and Jason end up doing). His antics and observations, although outrageous, usually end up being spot-on and reveal Mahoney’s shortcomings in humourous ways.

     One would almost feel sorry for our beleaguered protagonist, if everything obviously wasn’t for his own good. His refusal to grow up is called on the carpet time and time again, and he is definitely ready for it. Even though his last ditch attempt to “hide himself away” fails, it is certainly time for Jason to come out from behind his protective wall and embrace life to its fullest.

     Little’s great sense of humour, excellent grasp of character and dialogue shine in Hide Your Life Away. She never misses an opportunity to examine the narrative’s themes and does so in interesting and unique ways. Jason doesn’t get away with anything, as he is speared mercilessly by his best friend, his girlfriend, the staff at the Hospital, his parents, workmates and boss. Every scene illuminates aspects of the characters’ natures: whether it is discovering that men do in fact enjoy a bath occasionally (as long as there is a beer and a sandwich involved) or the notion that a woman might deliberately choose an unlikable, selfish and stunted man to marry, simply because he is honest.

     Some of the most delightful scenes in the book occur when Little pairs Mahoney with Random and just lets the two of them run away with the story. Random was raised by hippies and has an opinion on everything. Although his views are extreme, he is a thoroughly likable character compared to Jason. One of the funniest parts of the novel involves a trip to a hospital’s emergency room. Jason’s hysterics in the face of a minor injury, his interaction with nurses and the doctor and Random’s unhelpful suggestions escalate into a giddy Pythonesque sequence.

     Another memorable part of the book is Random, Jason and Debra’s drive into town, which enjoys elements from Toews’ The Flying Troutmans compressed into a half-hour trip. The rollicking conversation among the trio reveals aspects of their characters with wit and humour, always ending with Jason neatly pinned at the bottom of the pile. Random, although he acts more like a dog with his head out the truck’s window than a ‘real boy’ is vastly more mature than our man Mahoney. Debra is the balance between the two, at times taking on the thematic feminine aspects of mother/ girl-friend/ sister/ Muse, at other times simply herself; an equally honest person who never lets herself get talked out of her modest goals.

     Throughout the novel, Little simultaneously keeps the pace moving swiftly, without anything feeling rushed, and also takes the time to give the readers breathing space to enjoy themselves. The true-to-life feel of the scenes sweep the reader completely into the world Little has constructed. She juxtaposes unexpected imagery, yet nothing feels contrived. In fact, the odd elements are a fascinating backdrop to what could be fairly day-to-day life within a small town. Contrasts within the novel also help illuminate her ideas and the message she conveys within the narrative.

     Hide Your Life Away is a tight, well thought out microcosm of dialogue, inter-personal relationships and growth. Although compressed in the space of a weekend, it feels much broader. The physical, mental and emotional challenges Mahoney must face and absorb help propel him to his eventual evolution: bursting finally from his cocoon to step into an adult’s shoes (even if they are scuffed Chucks).