Much like Cordelia Strube’s other darkly driven novels, Teaching Pigs to Sing and Planet Reese come to mind, Lemon is a grim social satire, relentlessly bent on getting into your head and under your skin and forcing you to recognize many of the things we breeze over. You are taken in by Lemon and her quick, astringent remarks immediately. And she faces a lot: inept and mostly absent adult figures, hopeless friends–“Rossi and Tora, my non-compos associates, can’t stand anything that doesn’t have sex or special effects,”–and the violent and hypersexual halls of her high school. Compounded with Lemon’s own weighty concerns over child labour, slavery, violence against women, cancer, and the all out death of the planet, this is a novel that confronts. The list not only goes on, it gets worse. But it’s the wit in Lemon and Strube’s writing that gets me. With a line like, “My biological mother’s name is Constance Ramsbottom. Connie Sheep’s Ass,” you can’t help but embrace the story and deeply appreciate Strube’s charming prose and Lemon’s seemingly inexhaustible capacity to make a joke, despite everything.
Though Lemon still has some growing up to do, Strube twists the traditional bildungsroman by presenting Lemon as the adult in an evermore-disappointing world where adults don’t act like they should. After reading and rejecting some of the classic literature recommended to her by the high school librarian, Lemon decides, first and foremost, that she will not become just some girl pining over guys like in Austen, the Brontes, and Shakespeare: “I can’t stand all this love-at-first-sight bilge, couples obsessing over each other before they’ve even had a conversation.” In part to help save her failing grades as well as to conduct an experiment in revenge, Lemon opts to write a story of her own, with Lillian as her anti-heroine: “I try to concentrate on the play, get old Lillian into kinky underwear she bought online because the vamp on the soap was wearing it.” And, further inspired by her surroundings, “I surf around the soap opera; some stud’s got a gambling problem and I decide old Lil could start gambling.” Reading Lemon, with its intelligent and bleak blend of malice and beauty, puts you behind the eyes of a teenaged girl whose vivid awareness and wit carve her a place in the world. With Lemon, Strube again asserts herself as an accomplished writer who sets out to grapple with some undesirable realities. (Brooke Ford)
by Cordelia Strube, $19.95, 274pgs, Coach House Books, 401 Huron St on bpNichol Lane; Toronto, ON, M5S 2G5