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Following 2009’s Overqualified, Joey Comeau returns with another slim, quirky novel. The earlier volume contained a series of faux-confessional job application letters. Taking up where that book left off, One Bloody Thing After Another opens with a job interview gone horribly wrong. Not only does the applicant fail to get the job, she abruptly flees the interview after vomiting a “wet, bloody chunk of god knows what” onto the table of her would-be employers.
Meanwhile, Jackie, the novel’s adolescent protagonist, is struggling to deal with her violent tendencies and her mother’s ghost, all the while harbouring an unrequited crush on her best friend, Ann. Unbeknownst to Jackie, Ann keeps her own mother (the unfortunate job applicant from the opening scene) chained in the basement, for good reason. Her mother’s insatiable appetite for living flesh forces Ann to perform unspeakable acts on neighbourhood pets. When her sister succumbs to the same condition, Ann must go a step further, perpetrating an act of violence that the plot – half tongue-in-cheek though it may be – cannot quite sustain.
The horror genre represents a departure for Comeau, but the themes here are strikingly similar to those he’s previously explored: anti-authoritarian rebellion and youthful romance overshadowed by a heartfelt sense of loss. The gore and supernatural elements are a fitting complement to his characteristic blend of pathos and black humour.
Comeau’s prose is simple and direct, and the short chapters – many less than a page – make for a quick read. Though the book contains a good deal of grue, the plot is more playful and inventive than horrific or suspenseful. The reader gets caught up in Jackie and Ann’s adolescent exuberance; elsewhere, the vandalism and violence appear as half-formed expressions of hollow desperation. By ending with a Grand Guignol punchline, however, Comeau undercuts the reader’s sympathy for the subtler, emotional suffering of the novel’s characters.
"[Comeau] turns his adaptable talents to overt horror in this oddly touching novel of ghosts, friendship, bloody secrets, and family relationships. . . . A staccato structure allows for surprising intricacy in so few pages, and the crescendos of terror are leavened by moments of unexpected humor and warmth." Publishers Weekly
"The tone is poignant, sometimes wistful, and deadpan funny . . . The novel is more eccentric than gory, and what’s really shocking about it is that all the mayhem is finally about family ties, both severed and reconnected." Booklist
"The gore and supernatural elements are a fitting complement to [Comeau's] characteristic blend of pathos and black humour." Quill & Quire
"Comeau isn’t writing for suspense. Dealing with a zombie mother is treated with the same tone as Jackie’s confusion and struggle over her love for Ann . . . The real monster tormenting Comeau’s characters is the desire for something they can’t have and the reluctance to accept what they do." Telegraph-Journal