Friday, February 7, 2014

Dance, Gladys, Dance by Cassie Stocks

Cassie Stocks' Dance, Gladys, Dance is a funny and moving novel that reminded me of Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.

When she was six, Frieda Zweig couldn't wait to start music lessons. Her elderly piano teacher hit Frieda's fingers with a ruler if she looked down at them while playing. "Thwack. I tried to learn, but fear froze my mind."

At 27, Frieda is still stuck. She quit art college and has no idea what to do with her life. All she knows is that she wants to be normal... if she could only figure out what that means.

When Frieda moves into shared accommodation in an old house in Winnipeg, she meets a ghost named Gladys. Normal must be just around the corner...

Stocks has a wonderfully slapstick sense of humour:

The third week into her job at The Wanton Warehouse porno shop, Frieda was given this "smidgen" of advice: "Your bustier is on backwards."
"She pointed at the ridiculous red satin top I'd chosen to wear.
'Oh, the top. I wondered how to get all those laces done up in the back. I had to get the bus driver to help me this morning.'"

When Frieda's landlord, Mr. H, is told of a legendary plant in the South Pacific islands whose scent is "supposed to create overwhelming sensations of serenity," he calls it "The flower of positive stinking."

I also enjoyed encountering pop culture references dating back to my childhood, like 'el kabong,' 'pining for the fjords,' and Winnie the Pooh.

"I felt more like Eeyore than Winnie the Pooh. Eeyore's slow grey voice sounded in the back of my head: 'We can't all and some of us don't. That's all there is.'
'Penny for your thoughts,' said Norman coming out the front door.
I turned. 'Inflation,' I said. 'Thoughts are two thousand bucks now.'"

Frieda's friend Norman tells her that Leonard Cohen and Eeyore sound a lot alike. "That same mournful tone; it's uncanny."

What's uncanny is how a ghost story dealing with mental illness and self-fulfillment can be so sweet, funny and uplifting. Dance, Gladys, Dance has a whole lot of soul.

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