#659 Move over Bridget Jones

A One-Handed Novel
by Kim Clark

Halfmoon Bay: Caitlin, 2018
$24.00 / 9781987915624

Reviewed by Margot Fedoruk

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What is the difference between desirability and disability? Author Kim Clark explores these ideas and more in her fast-paced and farcical work of fiction, A One-Handed Novel. The book’s main character, Melanie Farrell, is a forty-something, face-planting, cane-wielding, pleasure-seeker with Multiple Sclerosis who loves to write lists. Her doctor gives her news from a Sexual Neuro-Response study that she only has six orgasms left before her sensory nerves stop responding. How will Melanie make the most of them?

This main premise begins as a fun sexual romp in Melanie’s hometown of Nanaimo and then continues on to Climax, Saskatchewan (it’s a real place). But her adventures are only just beginning. Melanie plots a trip to Costa Rica to consult with Dr. Falik about a controversial operation that isn’t approved in Canada.

Clark’s book has an air of Bridget Jones’s Diary, but with more of an edge. For example:

On the tenth day of Xmas, I watch three episodes of Game of Thrones back to back. A diet Pepsi and a non-medicinal joint accompany me and my buttered popcorn. I flip through the newspaper with greasy fingers and come across my horoscope. It says spend some time with my main squeeze. I love the term and, right now, my “main squeeze” is me.

Imagine a Bridget Jones with MS living in Nanaimo while struggling to maintain her independence with her self-described “sweet messed-up mother of a body.” But instead of the handsome barrister, Mark Darcy, as possible love interest, picture instead a “cutely repulsive” butterfly collector named Leo Moss.

Opportunities for sex with various men and women ensue, while Melanie actively hunts for willing partners in her countdown for her last six orgasms. The most compelling chapters are when Melanie becomes fixated on numbers. In the chapter titled “Liberation,” Melanie waxes prosaic. “Six is just a number. Six is so close to sex that even the curlicue number becomes a visually erotic tendril. That seductive character is everywhere. Channel 6. Page 6. February 6. Open a 26er.” Later, when she’s down to one orgasm, she says,

Renée Zellweger as Bridget Jones and Colin Firth as Mark Darcy

One’s not a bad number, in Roman numerals or otherwise. I like the shape. Pure simplicity — like a bullet, which I’m more than a little prepared to bite for the sake of freedom or liberation or even deliverance of this numerical blessing-curse. And it symbolizes so many apropos characteristics for my final climactic act — urgency for new beginnings, action, both mental and physical, positivity and strong will.

Although this novel begins as a quest to utilise the main character’s orgasms to the fullest, the author manages to raise these questions: how do you keep your independence and dignity when you must use a pair of pliers to get your shoes on, or when you continue to wet your pants at inopportune moments?

Clark’s ability as a writer is that she is able to explore some deeper issues with a light hand. She delves into the idea of desirability further, for example when Melanie ponders whether you can attract someone when you are in a wheelchair, a mode of transportation that “equates with non-sexual or infantile or stupid … with the assumption of deafness thrown in.” Melanie knows that her “future probably includes touch that’s more about maintenance than desire.” Clark’s magic is that her story keeps up a comedic tone while showing us the vulnerability that is part of being human.

“Everyone has annoying relatives in Winnipeg”

Melanie crosses paths with a sprawling array of characters, from her small group of best friends to a telephone marketer named Patrick. Later, readers are introduced to Melanie’s clients for her new phone sex business. And although much of the language is laced with poetry, some of the sayings come off as a bit crude, such as when she throws in terms like “a hot new game of tit for twat,” or when Melanie reminds herself to “Buck up or fuck up.”

That said, there are moments of mellifluous passages. In the well-developed chapter, “Chicken in Mourning,” Melanie is obsessed with the sexual possibilities of a dinner guest’s extra thumb. She explains, “Marvin and I are inexorably linked by our sinistral flaws and our numerical synchronicity.” As Melanie plans a special meal for friends, she says: “I envision the finished product, the dark veil of truffles under its golden, crisp, translucent skin — a beautiful chicken widow with a dusky mantilla trailing to her footless ankles.” The characters that populate Clark’s novel are often quirky and wise, especially when they drop in philosophical tidbits, such as when Leo Moss tells Melanie that “The key to life — is wanting what you have, not having what you want.”

Kim Clark has written a rich and identifiably Canadian character. Take a trip to Timmy’s for a bagel — and then enjoy the sexual shenanigans that ensue after Melanie picks up hitchhikers on their way to Big Stick, BC. Follow Melanie as she attempts to make dinner to Canadian singer Bif Naked’s Purge soundtrack. Or laugh in understanding when you relate to the fact that almost everyone in western Canada has annoying relatives in Winnipeg.

A One-Handed Novel also includes some delightful lines of dialogue. “No woman will ever be truly satisfied on Valentine’s Day because no man will ever have a chocolate penis that ejaculates money.” And, with a playwright’s understanding of timing, Clark continues,“ We both pause to imagine that.” Learn how to dress for a bankruptcy meeting: “Do I want to look well-worn but not bag-lady pathetic?” Discover the German word for contraceptive, Schwangerschaftsverhutungsmittel, or when to mark your calendar for national orgasm day (it’s real, I checked).

There is no obvious formula in this book. It begins as a countdown quest for orgasms and then shifts to a quest for health and independence. But in between these twists and turns in the plot, Clark provides scenes of palpable beauty. During a tender moment with Leo, Melanie explains,

This charming and resourceful man produces a bag of nuts and dried apricots, a bar of dark chocolate and cool water from his various pockets. He looks the other way while I pee — perched on the running board — then offers me a tissue and quotes Chuang Tzu into the spring breeze grazing the parking lot: “I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.”

When Melanie loses the use of her hand, this “bad hand” becomes another character in the story — Melanie names him Dick. Dick’s actions seem slapstick at times, and it is a bit much when Melanie takes him to the tattoo parlour to put facial features on him. He also spends a lot of time flailing into people’s crotches. At the same time one feels that Melanie is merely making the best of a bad situation and you begin to appreciate her chutzpah. Kim Clark’s ability to go deeper into these issues sets this novel far above the mere label of Chiclit. In the chapter aptly titled “Liberation” there is a reminder that “we all create our own reality … (our) thoughts, beliefs and actions” — a large part of this novel’s underlying premise.

The title of this novel was chosen because the author wrote it with one hand, due to her own symptoms from MS. Clark dedicates A One Handed Novel “to all of you — whether disabled or temporarily abled — who can still locate your funny bone, even through these interesting times.” When you read this novel you will be laughing and cheering for the main character, someone who has a unique way of approaching life’s obstacles. And, like Melanie, you might just wet your pants, just a little. Clark’s novel remains positive from the first to the very last page. Nora Ephron may have felt “bad” about her neck, but Kim Clark creates a character who finds a way to feel “good” about her hand.

The last chapter, “Coming Together,” does have a feeling of galloping to the finish line. It leaves you with a sense that Clark has so much to say that it couldn’t be contained in a mere 250 pages. Clark is, in fact, currently working on a sequel, conveniently and aptly titled Another One-Handed Novel.

Leaving Climax, Saskatchewan. Photo courtesy of Twitter

A graduate of the Creative writing department at Vancouver Island University, Kim Clark lives in Nanaimo. Her website states, with her regular flair for ham, that she is an author, poet, playwright, and gimp. A One-Handed Novel was adapted from her short story, “Six Degrees of Altered Sensation,” from a collection of short stories, Attemptations (Caitlin Press, 2011), which contains Clark’s same dark sense of humour with more realistic Canadian characters. Join the mailing list on her author website and she will send you a free copy of the well-crafted opening story, “Dick and Jane and the Barbecue.” Clark has also written three books of poetry, Dis ease and De sire M anu S cript (Lipstick Press, 2012), Sit You Waiting (Caitlin Press, 2012), and Middle Child of Summer — 31 poems for August (Leaf Press, 2014). She was a finalist in Theatre BC’s Playwriting Competition and the Malahat Review’s Novella contest. Clark has a novella under option for a feature-length film — something to keep an eye out for.

If humour can boost your immune system, A One-Handed Novel will keep you healthy for a long time.

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Margot Fedoruk

Margot Fedoruk lives and works on Gabriola Island. Her publishing credits include personal essays in the Globe and Mail, Portal 2019, and Island Parent Magazine. She has a BA from the University of Winnipeg and is currently pursuing a creative writing degree at Vancouver Island University. She blogs here and here. Contact her at redurchin@shaw.ca

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Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

The Ormsby Review is a journal service for serious coverage of B.C. books and authors, hosted by Simon Fraser University. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Wade Davis, Hugh Johnston, Patricia Roy, David Stouck, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Provincial Government Patron since September 2018: Creative BC

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