The Cost of Living


134 pages
ISBN 0-919754-14-7






Reviewed by Carolyn Hlus

Carolyn Hlus was a lecturer in English literature at the University of Alberta, Edmonton.


Kenneth Radu’s collection of 13 short stories, The Cost of Living, rings of contemporary North American existentialism. Characters in these well-crafted stories are caught in painful conflicts of moral choice. Some of the characters are eccentric or, at least, are caught in unusual situations. Some situations, in fact, are simply sensational. Radu’s method is to imagine a bizarre situation and then the conduct of characters with particular personalities placed in that situation. Herein lies both the intrigue and also the shortcomings of these stories.

Some protagonists are aptly labelled “hangers-on,” hangers-on either by accident or by choice. The Italian woman in the best story of the collection, “Which Road to Florence, “ is somehow left behind in China during the Revolution. Now, years later, interviewed by a Western reporter, she is an old “dispossessed, unaffiliated foreigner … without papers, resources, connections, family, who [came] through the other end of history, surviving after a fashion, barely tolerated by her hosts.” The old woman is pathetically alienated from all of her own kind. Like her, Henry Waldemar, in “Moment of Impact,” is a loner. The sole survivor of an air crash which killed all others on board, he cannot cope with the miracle of his existence. The protagonist of “A Bird in a House” persists in staying in her flooded home when her neighbours leave. Each of these protagonists “hands on” to a thread of “being.”

Main characters of other stories in the collection have definite mental problems. Sarah, in “How Time Flies,” tries to cope with her grandson on the anniversary of the day she choked her own son to death. Billy, in “The Yellow Dress,” is a transvestite. The male antagonist of “Bottom’s Dream” is a former gang rapist. All of these characters exhibit deviant behaviour.

Radu’s stories are exceptionally well crafted; he repeatedly uses subtle understatement, building to casual denouements. In my estimation, however, his persistent focus on the bizarre limits the scope of his fiction’s interest.


Radu, Kenneth, “The Cost of Living,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 23, 2024,