Directions for an Opened Body

Description

122 pages
$11.95
ISBN 0-920544-77-0
DDC C813'.54

Publisher

Year

1990

Contributor

Reviewed by Ian Calder

Ian Calder is a Toronto-based free-lance writer.

Review

In this, his first collection of short stories, Harvey focuses on the
desperate, brutal side of life. The 14 stories deal with poverty, death,
love, and the madness that surfaces when relationships disintegrate.
Harvey’s strong character/narrator development and the power of his
images enliven the grim world he portrays.

All the stories reveal a nugget of Harvey’s talent, but the weaker
tales are carried solely by the strength of a well-polished phrase. In
the first story, “Open House,” the husband/narrator, who has been
deserted by his wife, goes berserk in the house that is up for sale. The
raging narrator states, “The rail suddenly bare, but I want to toss
more, like I’m throwing stuff out from inside me,” which is the
strongest image in this weak story. The line is also a thread that
connects the story to the book’s title and to the other tales: the
motif of having an open body to pain and to pleasure (mostly pain, in
Harvey’s collection) links the stories.

Harvey’s narrators include a child molester, a man who has an
incestuous relationship, a man waiting to die, a demented man, and a
suicidal old man. He is quite successful at creating the narrative voice
of those on the edge or in the process of destruction. “A Handful of
Change,” opens with “a Loud Stutter of knuckles bounces against the
front door”—a marvelous image. The power of this story, however, is
in the tension created as the narrator’s anger grows to the point of
explosion. Slowly, the narrator’s mask is stripped away, revealing his
child-molesting nature.

When Harvey uses third-person narrative, his powerful images and poetic
prose meld together. The disturbingly beautiful “Swan,” the
collection’s strongest story, is told in the third person. Other
notable stories in this fine collection are “The Passing of Time,”
“Orderly,” and “The Profound Liberation of Roy Purdle.”

Citation

Harvey, Kenneth J., “Directions for an Opened Body,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 29, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/10928.