Some books comfort us. We sink into those stories with the familiarity of slipping a hand against the palm of an old friend, and carry them with us in a friendly pocket of our minds. Claudia Dey’s Stunt is one of those books, comforting though not in its realism but its strangeness. Functioning the same way that dream space and memory and the endlessly spinning imagination of childhood work, Stunt is a weird and precisely pitched exploration of desire, longing and discovery. Christina Decarie’s review of the novel examines and expertly appraises the precise cut and clarity of the vision that Dey produces, accurately evaluating and polishing its splendid weirdness. Decarie’s exploration of its Nabokovian qualities is spot on, and she doesn’t chide the book for its flights of fancy, but rather highlights their glorious scope and arc. She also holds the book’s sensuality, often sordid and unsettling, with care, but without distaste. It’s a review that lets the book breathe in the way it must, and draws potential readers in without giving more than the slightest breath of its depths away.
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What would Lolita have been like if Nabokov had imagined a child obsessively, incestuously in love with a grown man, a man as capricious and oblivious as a little girl? What if Humbert Humbert and Lolita’s roles had been reversed? The result would be Stunt, playwright Claudia Dey’s first novel. Prefaced by a quote from Lolita, Dey’s book begins as a Nabokovian delight, and Dey sustains this high level of writing throughout. The novel has lurking beauty, with strange pathways and a population of absurd characters. Nothing is normal, nothing is plain.
When nine-year-old Eugenia awakens to find her father gone, she begins her journey to find him, knowing, as only the obsessed can, that he didn’t mean to leave her behind. The story of Stunt is the one Eugenia tells to the absent father, and her aching for him is haunting: “I close my eyes and smell you in: unwashed man skin, old smoke, cat, wet wool, apple. I reach out in the dark…. touch my finger to your mouth, your lips….”
The beauty of Dey’s prose is matched by the oddities of the narrative. Eugenia lives with her sister – who is simultaneously a young beauty and an old hag – and her mother, Mink, a woman who is “the colour of orchids” and yet rather sordid. After her father disappears, Eugenia and her sister double in age overnight, and Eugenia, donning her father’s suit, leaves home to begin her search. Her only clues? Postcards he sends from outer space, of course.
Despite the magic-realism flourishes, the story’s development seems natural. Stunt is mesmerizing, rewarding, and breathtaking. Dey never lets up, never writes simply, plainly, or boringly. Like Eugenia’s nightfall, Dey’s book is “all dark majesty and menace,” and wonderful to read.
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Christina Decarie’s review of Stunt by Claudia Dey originally appeared in Quill & Quire in June 2008.
Christina Decarie is a writer, editor, and founder of Upstart Press.