We've all been there, we TABs*. We see someone in a wheelchair, or walking with the assistance of canes, or making do with a prosthetic arm or leg and we think "oh, look how well they get on" without really considering just how challenging that getting on can be. If you want to get more of an idea, go find a copy of A One-Handed Novel ASAP.
Nanaimo poet and fiction writer, Kim Clark's new novel takes up where one of the stories in her 2011 collection, Attemptations: Short, Long and Longer Stories leaves off. Her protagonist and narrator, Melanie Farrell, has Multiple Sclerosis and has just been to see her neurologist who tells her that among the many dubious adventures her body is likely to take her on, she's only got six orgasms left!
Six! What to do? How to get the most bang for her buck, as it were? "Every body failure, even a genital one, is a niggling concern when you have a progressive disease." Bet you never thought of that when you were observing someone in a wheelchair trying to negotiate an uneven sidewalk, did you?
It's a examination of the way TABs see the disabled.
It considers the issue of alternative forms of medicine and how, when one is desperate, those alternatives may demand exploration and hang the expense when it becomes a travelogue, in that it takes the reader to Costa Rica with Melanie when she goes for a controversial medical treatment called liberation angioplasty and meets the homonym-inspired physician, Dr. Falik.
It's a study in personification when Melanie's left hand goes AWOL on her, is given the name Dick and provides some of the best conversational passages I've seen in yonks. After Melanie meets Leo Moss and decides she'd like to get to know him a little better, this ensues:
"More is better, right?" I ask my bad hand, parking it on my desk. "You'd feel better, wouldn't you, if there was a little hand-to-hand—"
"Combat?" asks my alarmed hand.
"No. Contact," I reassure it.
"A hand job?" asks my suspicious hand.
"No! Just a little shake."
My bad hand makes a scrunchy "eww" face.
I tell it, "No, not that! Hand-to-hand, a quick grasp, a warm...oh, never mind!" I pull my sleeve down over it to shut it up. It keeps humming. I try the Napoleon pose. When that doesn't work, I begin telling the apotemnophiliac fairy tale, "Once upon a time there was a very very bad hand..." (p. 129)
It looks at the difficulties to be found when it comes to the disabled seeking employment and how providing a service such as being a one-person sex-work call centre can provide income and even a roommate, to say nothing of belly laughs for this reader.
There are times, too, when both Dick and I have to work hard and fast, especially on the special effects. Caro—my first female—is turned on by the sound of my KitchenAid mixer, especially the whisk attachment. Ernie likes to listen to me pee, which means Dick pouring water into the toilet from an impressive height while I giggle and sigh on speaker phone. Shy Paul Two—I have to keep my Pauls straight—gets wood, as he puts it, the size of a banyan tree when I snap my bamboo back-scratcher across my palm—the inside of Dick's head. (p. 177)
This is followed by a deeper look into what makes Mel's clientele tick. We find out that mix-master Caro wanted to be a chef but thanks to Parkinson's disease can no longer cook for herself.
There's even a recipe for a scrumptious-sounding dish called Chicken in Mourning that involves the insertion of truffles under the skin (the chicken's, that is); Caro really likes that one. Clark can make anything sound sexy!
A One-Handed Novel is funny and wry and always intelligent, with a didn't-see-it-coming ending that just begs for a sequel which, I understand, is in progress.