Friday, July 18

Sleeping Over - Stacey Ballis

Five friends meet two years after one took off for the Peace Corps as a way of breaking up with a boyfriend. Jess is staying with a handsome, womanising doctor friend of her cousin, and is having trouble keeping her hands off him; sous chef Robin has the hots for her platonic friend Michael; arty Lilith's in an open relationship that doesn't seem to be working out so well for her; shy Anne's happy with her dream man; while sister Beth's detaching herself from a bad relationship.
After a dire experience with Ballis' debut novel Inappropriate Men (filled with turgid poetry, the least appealing plus-size heroine ever, and a gaping, meandering plot), I only picked this up when Lynn dared me. Though better than its predecessor, a bar of extreme lowness, this is a flawed novel too. There are too many poorly-differentiated characters and a multitude of viewpoints, confusing the plot. For some reason, though each of the women has her own first-person contributions, her conclusion is often told by another character, which was unsatisfying.

At random intervals male characters are presented as vital statistics - for example:
Sasha Brunowsky
37, philosopher
Pretentious as hell
Likes coffee and cigarettes
Hates all non-intellectuals

The technique adds little to the story, and doesn't really function as an adequate snapshot of the character, who is then only described in superficial detail. Would that were the case for other elements - in contrast, some sections have huge amounts of highly detailed description:

There is a big salad of romaine hearts, hearts of palm, artichoke bottoms and grape tomatoes in a spicy lime vinaigrette, a roasted leg of lamb with a herbed yoghurt sauce, wild rice with currants, pistachios and fresh mint and crisply roasted Brussels sprouts... sipping Robin's decadent home-made hot chocolate and eating shortbread cookies Anne brought over from Bittersweet Bakery, and chocolate-covered dried cherries and blueberries that Lilith picked up from Long Grove Confectionery. I take the opportunity to give them all the gifts I bought back from Kenya, beautifully woven wrap skirts called kangas, small soapstone carvings from Kissii, elephant-hair bracelets, and necklaces of handmade silver beads. In addition I have a traditional bean pot for Robin, a pair of garnet earrings for Beth, a signed copy of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart for Anne, and an antique wooden mask for Lilith."

Eh. And then there are the annoying phrases, like "'Did Kate put you up to this?' he quipped, patronisingly." I don't know that that counts as a quip, let alone whether quips can be said patronisingly. I'm prepared to be corrected, but that just reads to me as confused and unnecessary. One of the characters (I've mercifully forgotten which) fancies herself as a Reader of Literature, and is taken aback when a common or garden-variety commoner opens a copy of her favourite classic (the evidently literary Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown) in a cafe: "I don't mean to perpetuate a stereotype, but you just don't think of the average day laborer as possessing a literary mind." Well, she might not, but I've learned that what someone does is often unrelated to their level of education, intellect, literary taste or interests, and the statement comes off as snobbish and stereotyped. And she's not 'perpetuating' a stereotype, she's surprised he doesn't fit her stereotype. Two serves of Ballis are enough for me, at least in this life time. Unless you're stuck somewhere where the only other offering is her first novel, run far away from Sleeping Over. - Alex

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