Earthbound, Kenneth Radu, 162 pgs, DC Books, dcbooks.ca, $18.95
This collection of 17 short stories is tethered by ordinary characters facing extraordinary circumstances that are still somehow grounded in reality. Whether it’s a war veteran playing hero again during a road rage incident, a black woman from a mixed family trying to finally find out who her real father is from her dying mother, or a newly disabled woman grappling with a peeping tom as she gets out of the tub, Kenneth Radu makes sure that while these things don’t happen to everyone, you know they could happen to someone. That’s what makes them so compelling.
Radu places you instantly in the heads of his characters, highlighting subtle details and descriptions that bring out their emotional state and allow us to root for them. As a person with a disability myself, I related to the wheelchair-using protagonist’s struggle and annoyance in “Windows,” but these emotions were rightly balanced against the practical independence that still remains. Radu brings nuance to his writing that few can pull off.
However, the endings were often a let down — great build up, no pay off. The war veteran road rage victim just yells at the perpetrator from his car and drives away, the woman with a disability never gets to fight back against her stalker and is instead left a weeping mess with pee on her seat cushion, and the woman searching for her real father finally finds him and realizes there’s no room in his biography for her.
Earthbound may suffer from a case of literary blue balls, but these endings also echo one of life’s most common themes: there are never any easy answers. (Aaron Broverman)