Rita, heroine of Cordelia Strube's Teaching Pigs to Sing (HarperCollins Canada, 288 pages, $20 paper) needs a holiday. She has mastered the inner monologue on futility, she has turned her life into a splendid example of urban alienation, she never permits herself any but the driest of humour. Now, she needs a complete change of scene. A struggling single mother with the requisite screwed-up family and relationships, she should leave what she knows behind, including, for his own sake, her young son Max, and take herself off to some place where her kind of despair is not in vogue.
Readers who are fond of the genre, if such it be, will get their money's worth. Rita is unconventional, uncomfortable, and unpredictable. She shuns the little illusions (love that does not resemble fear, any emotion that could be described as joy, outside interests, friendship, not to mention smoking, meat-eating, and drinking) so desperately seized upon by the wilfully blind. Courageously she fears her way through life, a full circle of fear in the centre of which is the fear that her son Max will grow up to do the same.
Readers who are not fond of the genre, who look to fiction for distillation and metamorphosis rather than a mirror image of their own drearier reality, may get fed up with the book's stock assumption that those who see anything other than despair, futility, self-doubt, and unrelieved nastiness in life are kidding themselves. They may prefer the outmoded idea that wisdom, however inexplicably, is bold, even cheerful, of face.