Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Review Tuesday: A World of Yes by Amanda Earl

A World of Yes by Amanda Earl
Devil House Press, 2015

Bonnie Clowd is a poet, a day-dreamer, a free spirit, a smart ass, a sex maniac, an appalling housekeeper, aggressively Canadian, just turned thirty five, and single. Amanda Earl’s hilarious and provocative novel A World of Yes takes us into Bonnie’s chaotic but sensual world, as she tries to make sense of her own desires. The book opens just before Bonnie’s thirty fifth birthday party, when she somehow finds herself in a lustful embrace with her best friend Charlene. After the arrival of Bonnie’s meddling Aunt Winifred interrupts their clinch, Charlene disappears and Bonnie, deeply shaken by her own level of arousal, drinks herself into a stupor. She awakens the next day to discover discarded condoms and other evidence that her guests had continued the party without her. None of her friends, though, will give her an honest account of what happened.

Although she’s independent and self-sufficient, Bonnie’s often lonely—and pretty much always horny. A World of Yes follows her adventures, and misadventures, as she navigates the minefield of her life: her attentive but often unavailable married lover Sean, her gorgeous but sleazy boss Byron, the sweet and slightly goofy guy she meets on an online dating site, the seductive stranger on the train who offers to introduce her to dominance and submission, the selfish guy she picks up in a bar and fucks in a back alley, and of course the mysteriously missing Charlene, who probably would give Bonnie some great advice, if only she’d answer her phone.

Amanda Earl somehow manages to keep the sexual heat turned up, even when Bonnie veers close to the edge of ridiculous. Having edited her collection of short stories, I already knew that Ms. Earl could write gorgeous, intense, transgressive erotica, the sort of stories that melt you as you read. I didn’t realize she had such comic talent. Bonnie had me laughing out loud, even though I knew her sexual-existential crisis was fundamentally a serious issue. Here’s a sample:

Okay!” I hang up and looked around my living room. I start putting stuff away. I’ve been told I’m an excellent tidier. The trick is to put everything in a big bag and throw it in the closet. It sits there with all the other big bags full of useless crap and after a year of not being missed, gets thrown out. On my way over to the closet whose doors can barely close with big brown bags bulging out, I spot a small fragment of a photograph. I don’t recognize it right away, but then I see it’s Esmeralda and she’s got her arm around a guy, but all I can see is the guy’s arm. She’s sitting on my own couch! But she’s never been to my place. I’m sure of it. I see Charlene’s pink fluffy scarf on the couch, the one a friend of hers made for her. She was showing it off to me the day before my birthday. What? That means Esmeralda was over here…during my party. What the heck! She told me flat out that she didn’t come. Even was annoyed at not being included in the orgy. Talked about planning one for my birthday next year even. Geez. What the heck happened at my party? And why won’t anyone tell me?

Meantime I have to get the kitchen a bit cleaner. Sean won’t feel like eating my food if he sees the state of my kitchen right now. It’s like an archeological dig. I’d better excavate and quickly, before Indiana unearths my mummy. I manage to get everything put away, including that stupid photo, which I stick underneath a book on call girls.

Even the chapter titles are brilliant: “The Way of the Armadillo”, “Figs, Flowers and Other F Words”, “Would you like an epiphany with your cinnamon roll?”

One aspect of the book that I particularly enjoyed was the strong sense of place. Most of the book is set in Ottawa, but Bonnie travels to Toronto and to Montreal, and the author makes it clear these different cities have different souls.

What impressed me most, though, when I’d finished the novel, was how tight the narrative turned out to be. As I read, I had the feeling of being, like Bonnie, a bit out of control, but that’s an illusion. The structure of this book is almost Platonic. All of Bonnie’s wild excesses, her emotional ups and downs, her binges and her crises, take place within a single week. By the end of that week, Ms. Earl has brought the story full circle to provide a surprising and satisfying conclusion that answers many of Bonnie’s (and the reader’s) questions. That’s when I realized that Ms. Earl knew exactly what she was doing. In retrospect, I saw the patterns which had faded into the background against the immediacy of Bonnie’s emotions.

Like Bonnie, Amanda Earl is a poet. Like a poem, A World of Yes is meticulously constructed but gives the impression of spontaneity. The deeper you look, the more you see.

Highly recommended!

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