Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome by Megan Gail Coles

 

The title of this book caught my eye the first time I saw it. Since then, it has gotten a rave review by Chad Pelley at The Overcast, and Megan Gail Coles has become the first fiction writer to win the Winterset Award with a debut book. I am not surprised.

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Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome is a collection of stories, some of which have overlapping characters, all of which are full of life; the nastiness, unfairness, grittiness, hopelessness and hopefulness of life. All of the protagonists in her stories have troubles of some kind, most of them are lonely and searching for more, better. Most of them are also full of the kind of humour that comes out when laughing at life is all you have left.

The best way to get a sense of these stories, and her wonderful writing, is by reading her words straight from the book. Warning: Oncoming barrage of quotes. Coles gets her stories off to a great start with snappy first lines that grab you right off.

Damon thinks, this, everything, is Brenda Hann’s fault for making him believe her pussy was made of gold.

I am the blackest man working at Tim Horton’s.

Your father doesn’t care about you, Sadie, Mom says. He never thinks about you at all. He hardly knows you’re in the world.

B thinks a week on the beach will make up for the life he’s given me.

A heartbroken Newfoundland man is completely void of original thought. So thinks Kim.

Shawn never finishes the food on his plate. Doing so lacks self-control and , besides, it seems vulgar to be so hungry.

There are also some great story titles: Everyone Eats While I Starve To Death Here, I Will Hate Everything Later, This Empty House Is Full Of Furniture, These Canadian Children Are Not Mine, French Kissing Is For Teenagers, Ultimatums Grow Wild In This Place.

And, her characters aren’t afraid to tell it like it is, and let us in on their misery.

He thought about becoming a homeless person, perhaps taking up heroin or something that would warrant his downward spiral.

Don’t ever have a go at the neighbourhood whore in an alley. Nothing good will come of it.

I write my brother in Nigeria. I tell him that everyone has more than they need here and yet, they are starving.

Mom says that if there was a dying man with his leg hanging off and a broken toe, Dad would fix the broken toe while Mom saved the man’s leg and then pretend they did the same amount of work. Pretend he did more work, expect praise. Mom says Dad’s priorities boggle her Jesus mind.

We had Jack and we can never have fun with Jack. He will not allow it. He is insanely jealous of anything Mommy might enjoy better than him. It’s impossible. And wonderful. I am ashamed of myself for my divided heart.

Margie makes me like a pissy child. She’s after tapping into some long dormant part of my brain that recalls every injustice I’m after ever suffering.

Facebook is crack for the wounded.

I am certain but held in place by the fear that maybe… I can’t. Never really trying keeps my delusion of untapped potential alive, as if never trying and never failing were married to one another.

It’s a matter of deciding what you can and cannot live with. Can you live with being a sad person?

Newfoundland’s climate matches the temperature of her heart. Rain, drizzle and fog every day. Janine wonders who would ever want to live in such a place.

… wasn’t Deb pitiful, working under some misguided impression that she could increase her self-worth by f**king other people’s husbands. As if her vagina could absorb whatever coveted quality the wife had through cross-contamination. This strategy, she pursued with abandon.

… I am a gay man married to a beautiful woman with a lingering infatuation for a straight man at work.

It’s somehow Hazel’s fault that Martina is right preoccupied with how she looks. Hazel only said not to get fat. She didn’t say to stay skinny as a rake. It’s not the same thing… Besides, it’s true. Fat girls can’t have any nice clothes. It’s too dear. You can only have nice clothes if you’re small. Hazel was only trying to help, trying to give her granddaughters some advice.

She will have the mastectomy. She will stay alive. She tells her parents. Phoebe cries at the thought of Kim never making milk, worries that no man will want her, fears she will not feel pretty. Phoebe doesn’t say any of these things. Just that she is afraid. Kim’s Dad doesn’t say anything, he cannot talk about Kim’s breasts even in the abstract manner of disease. He takes Beatrice for a walk instead.

Now, how can you not want to go and find out what happens to these poor, aching souls?

There was not one story in this collection that I didn’t like. I will be eagerly watching for whatever Megan Gail Coles writes next.

 

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19 thoughts on “Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome by Megan Gail Coles

    • Naomi says:

      It really was good, and I am thinking that I might have to buy myself a copy so that I can read it again (the one I read was from the library).
      The title is what first got my attention when this book came out, and I kept my eye on it to see what people were going to say about it. It didn’t take long before they were saying some good things!

    • Naomi says:

      I was thinking about the S of the CSS when I read this, wishing I was reading it for the challenge. But, instead I can encourage everyone else to read it this summer! I think you’d like it!
      (Good to hear you might be hosting the short story challenge again – I got a book for Christmas just with that in mind.)

  1. Don Royster says:

    I especially liked this one. “Don’t ever have a go at the neighbourhood whore in an alley. Nothing good will come of it.” Funny as all get-out. Get-out is a southern meaning…well, I can’t remember what it means but you get the message.

    • Naomi says:

      I really have to get myself a copy of this book, so I can re-read some of the stories every once in a while. And, I can’t wait for her to write something else!

  2. Shaina says:

    Echoing awe over the title and cover! I’m not sure I’m in the mood for so many bummer stories (probably because I’m reading a collection full of them now!), but these do sound promising. Thanks for putting it on my radar!

    • Naomi says:

      For the most part, they don’t really feel like bummer stories, because of all the humour. They’re not abuse and war depressing, just ordinary life stuff (which, as we all know can be hard enough without adding anything else).
      Thanks for commenting!

    • Naomi says:

      It is unusual (for me, at least) to read a short story collection, and like all of the stories!
      There were a few stand out stories for me. One, called Houseplants and Picture Frames, was narrated by a young girl, and it was about her fighting parents. She was able to see and point out many things that rang so true for any relationship, although to a more extreme degree because her parents really did not get along. She also explained her need to do everything perfectly, always trying to please her parents, so there would be no need for them to be fighting because of her. The way it was written was heart-breaking and funny at the same time (even though it just sounds heart-breaking).
      Another favourite, called Flush Three Times to Show You Care, is narrated by a man who describes what it is like to be living with his partner (I can’t remember if they are married). They are always fighting, but in a funny way. “Margie makes me like a pissy child…”.
      So, there’s a lot of fighting and break-ups and people about to break-up, or people who should break-up. You know, normal, everyday dysfunctional life.
      In one story, there is a couple getting together who really should not be, and you are powerless to stop it.
      One interesting story is about an immigrant family from Russia. The mother is not happy here, and has a hard time watching her children becoming Canadian. “These Canadian Children are Not Mine”.
      Really, I loved this book. Thanks for asking! 🙂

  3. Buried In Print says:

    Oh my, oh my, oh my. I am breaking my ban on library books to snag a copy of this ASAP. It just sounds like *exactly* my kind of collection. Thanks for adding it to my reading radar! (I’ll get back to that library ban some other time!)

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