Most Wanted

by Vivette J. Kady
ISBN: 0889842590

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A Review of: Most Wanted
by Nancy Wigston

Vivette J. Kady grew up in South Africa, but there is nothing of that far land in these thirteen tales. Instead, the unknown continent Kady explores is the human psyche. These stories present a startling array of characters who blaze their way across page after page, redefining dysfunction as they go. What seems to bind together Kady's odd assortment of children, adults, even the occasional dog, is the unsteadiness of their grip.
It's hard to know, in this rich landscape, where to dive in. Why not start with the dog? His name is Duane, and he appears in the title story. Rescued from the pound by his new master, Maddox, he is a three-legged mutt who suffers from occasional depression. The dog's name honours rock music's god Duane Allman. His owner plays guitar and designs furniture, and has recently been deserted by his wife for that other deity, Jesus. It so happened that wife Francie prayed for Maddox's recovery after he was badly burnt in an electrical mishap; and since her prayers were rewarded, she decided to follow her faith and join a Christian commune. Although the electricity between her and Maddox still hums, its charge is becoming increasingly faint. Her "moist martyr-eyes" searched his face in disappointment as she left their home; she wanted him to at least try. When she promises to pray for him, he responds, "Go ahead, if it makes you feel good." He loves her, but his own belief system is contained in that line. Still, feeling good is tough when love has packed up and left. Kady sketches a vivid portrait of Maddox's brittle new reality, with Duane hobbling along by his side: a "droopy little fashionista" whose name he can't remember, is sniffing around Maddox, feeding him hashish biscotti in her upscale condo. Even cynicism can't shield us from our wounds, as Kady's portrait of heartbroken Maddox proves.
Sudden change is often the only constant in the lives of Kady's characters. Mothers run off, fathers die, lovers, wives and husbands disappear or commit suicide. Many stories begin with jaw-dropping sentences evoking abrupt, ya-gotta-laugh, reality shifts. "Early that summer, my grandma dropped dead watching The Price is Right," begins "Anything That Wiggles". The opening line sets an offbeat tone that permeates the tale. The narrator is a child, and so, in some ways, is her mother, Sandra, who suffered a head injury in infancy; she speaks slowly and endures seizures. When Aunt Lois descends to tidy up the house after granny's death, she runs into conflict with their cross-dressing tenant. Kady's domestic scenes resist easy summation, but Aunt Lois does a fair job when she remarks, "This place is a madhouse." When a peace accord is reached, Lois asks Roy (the cross-dresser) why he keeps pigeons. "They always come back," he responds, which says a lot about the longings felt by even the quirkiest of Kady's characters.
Yet trying to come back, as does Frank, in "Detour", can pose a whole other set of problems. Post-rehab, Frank drives to his brother's wedding, after first taking a detour to see a Francis Bacon exhibition. Like the popes in Bacon's paintings, Frank feels "most days [he] could just open [his] mouth and howl." This wedding, in all its apparent normalcy-his busy, determined, mother will be there-poses Frank's "biggest test since rehab." The reason? He was once in love with the bride, who renamed herself Rain (ne Shirley) during their long-ago affair. The puzzle is not that Frank wants his stable brother's fiancee, but that he has set his sights on a woman whose adult history is a complete mystery to him. Surprises fall like little bombs in the air. Rain has two children, one a difficult teenaged girl. Rain's husband killed himself the previous fall. These rather large knowledge gaps finally relieve Frank of his duty to disrupt the family event; Rain has suffered enough disruptions, so Frank calls his ex-wife instead. He doesn't reach her, but there's an exhilaration at the story's end, as he contemplates his escape from this domestic celebration, picturing the "long road unfurling in his headlights."
Some incidents recur in Kady's stories: in "Soft Spot", another baby is dropped on its head-prognosis unknown; in "Distance" we meet another slow female, although this time the tone is sad, not kooky; Maddox in "Most Wanted" designs furniture; in "The Bending Moments of Beams", a divorced mother of two designs "good safe spaces for people to live in," as a friend tells her sarcastically. The control this woman exerts over her architectural plans is, naturally, missing from her own life, where she is suffering a break-up with her lover, whom she has discovered smoking a joint and eating ice cream in happy intimacy with her teenaged daughter. In spite of the day-to-day jaggedness of family life, the mother observes: "Wounds close, blood congeals, torn flesh fuses."
Yet Kady's original approach to image and incident are, in the purest sense, wonderful. In her final story, "Return Stroke", lightning bolts play a major role. Long ago, a grandmother was washing dishes by an open window when "lightning struck and her hands caught fire. So life changes, literally, in a flash. Afterwards the grandmother discovers a new talent: she is able to find water hidden under the earth, as well as a few buried bodies. Her grown-up granddaughter remembers this story, as she prepares for her grandmother's death. Her own life has had its share of shocks; she found her lover after his suicide in their apartment; she currently supplements her income giving phone sex. Luckily, her grandmother, a scientific rather than a metaphysical woman, provides a final, powerful lesson. Lightning, it seems, comes down from a cloud to be met by a "return stroke" of earth's energy. The flash we see is actually the spark of "mutual attraction" between earth and sky, and it's moving up, not down. With this redemptive insight, Kady ends her remarkable story collection.

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