Teardown

by Clea Young

By Naomi K Lewis

Freehand books 2016/$19.95/192 pp.

Teardown is Clea Young’s debut collection, but her work has already received much-deserved approbation, appearing in the prestigious Journey Prize Stories three times. Set in Young’s native BC, this book’s captivating tales show characters in the last throes of nostalgia and regret for the heady joys and miseries of youth, awkwardly adjusting to unambiguous adulthood and approaching middle age.

Babies and children abound, whether driving best friends in different directions, straining marriages or offering new purpose. In one story, atop a pounding speaker, a mother struggles with resentment toward her husband and attempts to recapture her sensuality; in another, in a labyrinthine IKEA, a husband loses his pregnant wife, just as both face their terror of losing any semblance of a life they know how to navigate.

“Congratulations and Regrets,” one of the book’s most complex and intriguing stories, comprises the unnamed narrator’s letter describing a series of increasingly desperate acts that culminate in kidnapping a rubber newborn baby from work. The narrator blames her troubles in no small part on her correspondent, a former roommate who kicked her out in favour of a live-in boyfriend. She and the roommate once shared a closeness both childish and erotic, wearing each other’s clothes and crawling into each other’s beds when they couldn’t sleep.

Young depicts youthful female friendship cleaved apart by adult romance with wrenching precision. In “Split,” Tova feels betrayed and saddened by her former close friend’s newfound domesticity after having a baby—a friend who once demonstrated her ability to have an orgasm spontaneously while the two sat together in a bar. As Alannah flings her cigarette to the ground and runs to tend to her child, Tova imagines the cherry as “the sun, or some fiery planet going down.”

Young’s stories are as entertaining as they are devastating, and often take a deft, last-minute turn toward hope. At the end of “Congratulations and Regrets,” our letter-writer has secured her dream job, dream partner and dream baby. Young offers enough tender ambivalence that we buy her happy ending—no easy feat. In “Juvenile,” Mia runs into a high school lover and tormentor on a ferry. She finds herself re-enacting a self-sabotaging pattern, irresistibly drawn back to “that slippery juvenile version of herself,” lamenting that “she doesn’t really have a choice, that girl’s been resurrected.” But Young steers the story far from where we thought we’d land; Mia does have a choice. She’s not that girl—she’s a grown woman. Oh, the relief Young captures: yes, adulthood has its own problems, but how sweet to unanchor youth at last and watch it float away.

Naomi K. Lewis wrote I Know Who You Remind Me Of (2012).

 

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