Poison Shy tells neo-noir tale of chaos and raunch
By Stacey Madden. ECW Press, 178 pp, softcover
Suspending common sense in favour of sexual magnetism is seldom wise; look no further than online hookups and many a reality television franchise. Stacey Madden’s debut novel, Poison Shy, offers supporting evidence of this questionable modus operandi and portrays the chaotic tryst between solitary Brandon Galloway and devious university student Melanie Blaxley.
Set in Frayne, “a blue-collar nowheresville in southwestern Ontario”, the plot details the filth and revelry composing their courtship. That they initially meet when he fumigates a bedbug infestation in her apartment foreshadows the course of this whirlwind affair.
Unfolding in dive bars and over morning-after breakfasts, the liaison is epitomized by damaged property and stained sheets. On the periphery of these emotionally vacant exploits lurks Darcy Sands, Melanie’s volatile roommate, whose mischief regularly exasperates the 29-year-old exterminator.
“It’s not that I believed or trusted Melanie about her feelings for me,” he reflects. “As a matter of fact, I didn’t trust her at all. My problem was that I wanted to—and in my experience, desire not only trumps logic, it scratches it out completely.”
Developed through snapshots of childhood turbulence and adult obligations to his schizophrenic mother, Brandon remains the lone figure who becomes something more than a neo-noir decoupage. Raunch, a deceptively difficult element to regulate, panders here rather than personifies, and one can’t help but wonder if the ribaldry was partially intended to smoke-screen flimsy characterizations, dropped narrative threads, and dead-end clichés.
Gaffes aside, the Toronto author displays a commendable ear for dialogue and a conscious effort to entertain. The reader’s attention is sustained despite the book’s formulaic premise, a tip of the hat to Madden’s terrific pacing. Atmospherics, including the everyday tedium of life in a small town, are also well-drawn. These pages are a joy ride with visible potholes.
Before long, Brandon falls victim to Melanie and Darcy’s shenanigans, and then the maladroit ending arrives. Reading this brief volume is akin to being regaled, after dark, by a likable underdog as he shares that customary tale about existing aimlessly prior to the toxic fling that instigates a sea change.