Attemptations: Short, Long and Longer Stories
by Kim Clark

Caitlin Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-894-75966-3.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 12/27/2011

Fiction: Mainstream

When I saw the cover artwork by Kelly Louise Judd I knew this book of fiction would be full of the unexpected. I wasn't disappointed! The woman in the image appears to be levitating and a rabbit in mid-air is poised to land on her chest or her throat. Something unusual is happening and something quite disastrous, even though the rabbit can be a good luck talisman.

The shorter stories at the beginning of Attemptations build towards the longer ones. The characters throughout have physical challenges. Even the dog in "Dick & Jane and the Barbecue" has epilepsy and Jane has "an obscure disease involving physical wasting."

In one of the longer stories, Lillian, an aging woman with arthritis, plays cards on her own giving the story its title, "Solitaire." Lillian's days consist of taking her meds, eating a poached egg for dinner, and perhaps watching a documentary about superstitions and talismans. The writing is refreshing and far from ordinary even while describing ordinary events. Clark, who is also a poet, appears to delight in her own word wizardry and readers get to share in that delight.

With a desire for her own lucky rabbit's foot, Lillian hears about human feet—"mostly left"—being washed up onto Gulf Island beaches. As bizarre and macabre as that sounds, detached human feet, mostly left ones, have been found on various occasions on island beaches along the west coast of British Columbia. With a blend of the imagined and the real, it's easy to get caught up in this altered reality.

Lillian dreams herself "agile as all get-out" and into a feline body. At some point "dreams become reality" and it's best, I found, to relax and go along for the shape shifting ride. The story, like the other ones in the collection is quirky, darkly humorous and not quickly forgotten.

The other long story of the collection, "Six Degrees of Altered Sensation" is novella length. The protagonist is Melanie, a writer, who has MS. She's another of Clark's feisty female characters who is making out her "Xmas" to-do list. Seeing this list with items crossed off throughout the first chapter of the story adds to the humor of it. Again, Clark has suffused the ordinary with a gutsy and bewitching authenticity.

At her launch in Nanaimo, B.C. Clark said she finds this story the most fun. Indeed it is. Melanie's inner dialogue is hilarious at times and she is another character full of desire as well as a disability. Mel goes to an MS clinic for her annual check-up where she learns the results of a Sexual Neuro-Response Study. Dr. Sharni tells Mel that she'll only be able to have a few more orgasms before her "sensory nerves, the sympathetic system, will stop responding." She's given a number; six and Mel finds that "six is so close to sex, even the numerical becomes highly erotic."

Charlene, Mel's friend, tells her she can't survive on desire. "Yah, well, watch me. It's a different kind of high," Mel responds. That's what Clark's stories are: erotic, full of shape shifting, dark humor, and everyday magic—a different kind of high.

I appreciated the unexpected and the sense that Kim Clark threw caution to the wind and seized every opportunity to surprise herself and her readers. Clark's main characters have physical challenges, are full of desire and surprise, and they don't let anything get past them.

Kim Clark believes that before MS began its insidious infiltration, there was no writing in her and that, somehow, the damaging changes that shut down certain functions in her brain also opened up other unused areas that housed a secret love affair with language and all its delicious sights and sounds and feelings. Attemptations is her first book. She has two collections of poetry coming out in 2012. Visit the author's website.

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