I'm a Registered Nurse Not a Whore
by Anne Perdue
London, ON: Insomniac Press, 2010
258 pp. $19.95
In the “Escapist,” for example, expert tourists Doug and Shar wreak havoc in the Caribbean. Here, as elsewhere in the collection, the narrator is a roving shifty-eyed third person, binding itself to the story’s dynamic duo while doling ample helpings of snark and discontent. Not only do we dislike Doug and Shar, we have all met them in some incarnation or another. They are the goons who butt in front of us at the supermarket, the lushes who come to parties empty-handed and drink all the good stuff. While Doug heaves himself dramatically on an ice sculpture in an effort to drunkenly protest paying for a bottle of expensive wine, the perspective shifts to his wife Shar. Watching on, she weighs the pros and cons of getting yet another divorce before deciding to stand by her red-faced, steak-craving man. Somehow Perdue convinces us to suspend judgment of her creations, if only for a second. There is nothing left to do but gape at these marvelously complementary specimens in wonder.
Then, there are the protagonists of “Dry Well,” Keith and Heather, hapless first time home-owners desperately trying to stay financially and emotionally afloat. Between the mice, the busted furnace, and Keith’s career-woes, there is not much the pair can do but scratch their heads and hold each other tight. In one memorable scene, they frolic in an inflatable backyard pool until an errant nail deflates their fun. And then the rain comes. Even here, in a ramshackle house that refuses to be fixed, the human spirit endures. The ending, a brilliant recounting of the flawless trajectory of a gummy bear, is well worth the wait and proves that, even at its bleakest, the universe can still serve up grace.
Sally Snow, the main character in CA-NA-DA, is perhaps Purdue’s most striking creation – a whirling dervish of quirk and emotional spasticity. Middle-aged and awash in her own life mistakes, she urges her slacker of a son, Lyle, to get a life. She even offers him a cool grand to take the MENSA membership test with her. But Lyle is content working at the local shooting range, chumming up with illiterate rednecks, and Sally’s attempts to buy him over only widen the gulf between them. The story really comes alive when Sally welcomes Ruth, a Haitian billeting in Canada with her baby, Joe, into her house. It is not giving too much away to say that Ruth becomes vinegar to Sally’s baking soda, her presence being just what the proverbial doctor ordered to bring the story to a climax.
On a technical level, Perdue has commendable writing chops. It takes a special kind of artist to cuss like nobody’s business and still sound smart. Junot Diaz manages it, Mordecai Richler, too. Add Perdue to that list. When she is not crafting sensual metaphors and provocative imagery, Perdue drops F-bombs with aplomb. Moreover, each story is meticulously crafted and well structured. Any one of these tales could light up the big screen with their evocativeness.
If I'm a Registered Nurse Not a Whore has a flaw, it is Perdue’s occasional lack of sympathy for her characters. They are not the most likable people in the world, and I cannot help but wonder whether a bit more narratorial compassion might go a long way in endearing them to us. But that is a minor irritant in an otherwise splendid work. Manic but never gratuitous, I’m a Registered Nurse Not a Whore is a brave, sly and touching meditation on sharing an imperfect world. Perdue’s characters learn, like the rest of us inevitably do, that no matter how far we fall, as long as there is company we can at least enjoy the ride.
Andrew MacDonald has an M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto. He's a finalist for a Western Magazine Award for Fiction and the 2010 Journey Prize. His stories, articles and reviews have been published all over Canada. He lives with tuxedo cats in Toronto, where he's writing more stories and something longer.
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