Missy Marston: ‘Bad Ideas’ and ‘The Love Monster’

ECW Press 2019

This book is delicious – I ate it right up.

Twenty-three year old Trudy lives with her mother and her four-year-old niece, Mercy. Mercy’s mother Tammy left home long ago and no one has heard from her since. Trudy and her mother Claire both work at the linen factory, working opposite shifts, so there’s always someone to look after Mercy.

[Trudy] She liked to think of herself as tough, as a trailblazer, but maybe she was just a pushover like Claire. Look at her now, taking care of Tammy’s kid, working nights in the same shitty factory as her mother and every other loser in this town. It wasn’t as if she was setting the world on fire.

[Claire] A thirty-nine year old woman with blond hair and black roots, sleeping alone on a lumpy hide-a-bed. Unloved, disrespected, alone. In a town made of mud and gravel and weeds.

Darren, the father of Claire’s daughters went back to his wife in New Brunswick when the girls were little, but Claire has always held out hope that he will be back. Trudy doesn’t believe in true love and happy endings like her mother does.

Until she meets Jules Tremblay. Jules Tremblay isn’t just any man… his character is loosely based on Ken “the Crazy Canuck” Carter who attempted to jump the St. Lawrence River in a rocket car in 1978.

What makes a man imagine that he can drive a car up a ramp and fly over bales of hay, buses, creeks, canyons and forget that he will break his ankles, his ribs, puncture his lungs, bounce his brain off the inside of his cranium when he lands. If he is lucky. If his sorry life is spared one more time.

And why are these the ones? The ones making noise, wasting space. The ones that are covered in scars, that should be dead. The ones with less than half a brain inside their heads. Why are these the only ones she ever loves?

Bad Ideas is made up of short, quick chapters with catchy titles that keep you reading. (“Because Everything Stopped Making Sense”, Because Never is a Long Time”, “Because Sometimes You Can See Things Coming from a Long Way Away”) Narrated in third person – primarily from the perspective of Trudy and Claire, but expanding to include Mercy, Jules, Tammy, and Darren – the story speeds along through a string of bad ideas and poorly lived lives that all come together for a truly surprising ending.

[Claire] To get to the truth of it, the truth that her daughters would never believe, you had to tell the story right. You had to try to explain the feelings you had when you did the wrong things.

[Mercy] … nothing was ever quite the way you wanted it to be.

Using her flawed characters and quick wit, Missy Marston cleverly tells a moving story disguised as entertainment. (Mercy will win you over almost immediately.) This cast of forgotten characters living in a run-down town in eastern Ontario only want the same things we all do.

Thank you to ECW Press for sending me a copy of this book. It was the very nudge I needed to finally read Marston’s first book, The Love Monster.

 

Vehicule Press 2012

Who wouldn’t want to read a book called The Love Monster with a sock puppet on the cover and a protagonist named Margaret H. Atwood? I am happy to tell you that it is just as delicious as Bad Ideas.

After the house burns down, after the crop is blighted, after the train jumps the track and goes tearing up the turf, when you find yourself standing alone, staring at the smouldering twisted wreckage, you have to build something new. A Frankenstein version of yourself, your life. A crazy nasty silly monster puppet. It will not be pretty. It is not what you had planned. But if you are lucky, it will be a big strong brute. A big strong brute full of sweet monster love.

The Love Monster is structured much the same as Bad Ideas; short chapters, catchy titles (“Margaret and the Sad Decline”, “How Sweet His Face”, “Everyone Carries a Kernel of Sadness“), and third person narrative that rotates between characters. But the story itself is very different.

At 35, Margaret Atwood’s husband has left her and she is in a funk. To make matters worse, she has been tattled on at work and has been sent to a workshop about getting along with your co-workers.

How horrible to be among the pitied… She pictures herself on a raft pushed out to sea, a raft piled high with The Pitied: the mentally challenged, the socially awkward, the physically disfigured and the wives of cheaters.

What makes this story unique is that Margaret is being watched by aliens (yes, aliens) – one of them is smitten by her. It says a lot about Marston that she can make this risky element to her book work. Not only does she make it work, but the aliens add an extra layer of interest and entertainment.

He had tried to give it up, his interference with human goings-on. His lovelorn fantasies, his trans-species tendencies. He had tried to turn his attention to a normal, healthy alien life. He had tried to respect his heritage. But he couldn’t stop watching them, spying. He couldn’t stop meddling.

Although Margaret is at the center of the novel, Marston weaves the stories of all the characters together by writing alternating perspectives; Margaret’s mother Rose who comes to “help” get Margaret back on her feet…

… they created a monster. A baby monster made of love that would never, ever let her sleep through the night again. A thirty-five-year-old monster that is separated from her husband, drinks too much and refuses to answer the phone.

Margaret’s ex-husband Brian who cheated on her for years before leaving her for another woman…

Women. What torment! His whole life he has wanted them and for his whole life he has hated them for making him want them.

Margaret’s co-worker Marie whose love of Jesus got Margaret into trouble at work…

Last night, she had been kneeling, her elbows resting on her bed in Margaret’s guest room, and she had felt it. Before she even saw him, she knew he was there. The room had gone cold and still and she had felt his breath on the back of her neck. There was the scent of lilacs. When she turned she could see his shining robes and his gentle smile and then she felt his hand on her burning, tear-stained face… She will walk the surface of the planet with the Holy Spirit howling through her heart like the wind.

Margaret’s boss Lenny who silently suffers from an unhappy home life…

Lenny nods like a tough guy and Margaret leaves his office. She thinks about how she would like to hate him, but doesn’t. He is too sad to hate, too captive. Like he is dragging around a trap on his leg.

and of course the alien Leader…

It is time to make his way back… He has already been here too long. Someone will notice that he is a little too tall, that his proportions are a little wrong. Someone might get close enough to see that his costume is not a costume at all. And he would rather not see the look in their eyes. The terror and disgust. It hurts his feelings.

What I love most about this book is its idea that “everyone carries a kernel of sadness”, demonstrating our basic need for love and acceptance. Even Brian.

Like so many humans, he fears that his essential self may be completely unlovable. It makes him want to tear a hole in the life of everyone he has ever met.

Are you tempted by either of these? What is the last book you read that had you running for more by the same author?


 

Further Reading: 

Review of Bad Ideas and Interview with Missy Marston at Open Book in which she talks about her use of Prologues, which she includes in both of her novels: “The first sentence I wrote was the first sentence of the prologue: Why do they do it? As a writer, I love a prologue. With a prologue, you set yourself a challenge and then you try to write a book that lives up to it. In this case, there is a very basic connection: the prologue asks why and the book answers: Because, Because, Because.

Review of Bad Ideas at The Miramichi Reader:Bad Ideas is a great read, a well-balanced mix of pathos and humour… The way Ms. Marston brings all the threads of each character’s past into the present is a marvel of writing that makes Bad Ideas well worth reading.”

Review of The Love Monster at the Quill & Quire:There is hope, humour, and wry commentary on how we perceive the world and each other, but deeply buried under it all is that kernel of sadness, and Marston isn’t afraid to excavate it.

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13 thoughts on “Missy Marston: ‘Bad Ideas’ and ‘The Love Monster’

  1. wadholloway says:

    That’s true, some men do hate the women who they can’t help chasing. Or despise them. Or despise themselves. I wonder where Missy Marston gets these characters from. If she grew up, or worked amongst them. Writers are almost by definition middle class – have they lived these small town lives, or observed them, or invented them? Makes a difference. (yes I know some reading is just entertainment – I read Janet Evanovich).

  2. buriedinprint says:

    Yes, I’m tempted by both! Have you found any information about why the character was named Margaret Atwood? Was it just a coincidence? *laughs*

    The last author I ran for more? Louise Fitzhugh. I was really just planning to read The Long Secret, for #1965Club, but then decided to reread Harriet the Spy again, too, and then went on to read the third volume (Sport) and her final book, Nobody’s Family Is Going to Change (which was startlingly progressive for its time). Funny, when I was a kid, I used to “exhaust” writers like this as a matter of course – now I am much more inclined to let time pass between volumes – you?

    • Naomi says:

      Same here. But for me, it might just be because, as a kid, I didn’t know about all the books out there, so when I hit on authors I liked I stuck to them until I ran out.

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