The Watermelon Social

Reviews of  The Watermelon Social

  • Elaine McCluskey’s Watermelon Social is a slice of life every bit as juicy and mouthwatering as the title suggests. This debut collection of 10 short stories is a picnic of literary delights that serves up both the comedy and the tragedy of the human condition.
    From a story about a group of overweight women who go wild on fried ice cream at a weight loss convention to the tragic story of two young car thieves on the fringes of society, McCluskey shows uncanny talent when it comes to wryly assessing human foibles.

Chris Morris, The Canadian Press, April 2006

  • The Watermelon Social is truly a book to be read.  Once concluded, it should be set prominently on a shelf so that a mere glance at its spine would resurrect similar harsh examples from our own lives. We could consequently relish small forays into honesty and cathartic releases of all the things we censure on our tongues and within our minds.
    For those moments when the frustration or rage within us bubbles like a poison and will no longer be contained, McCluskey arrives with the antidote. Her words and wit are sharp enough to give paper cuts as we read but there is a kind of magic here that is hard to resist. She captures the quintessential Canadian ability to mock ourselves and others as a form of social and personal healing.

Martin Van Woudenberg, Event Journal 2008 37.1 Spring

  • Her debut collection is a masterful display of wry, concise observational writing, from the suburban mother who suffers through a dreaded social, to the collection of losers attending an all-you-can-eat weight loss convention.

Pat Lee, Halifax Chronicle-Herald, April 2006

  • McCluskey’s stories are remarkable, clear-eyed portraits of the world of hosers, poseurs, emos, and supermoms. For anyone needing a suburban reality check, The Watermelon Social should be required reading.

Linda M. Bayley, Canadian Book Review Annual (CBRA) Spring, 2008

  • Don’t mistake Elaine McCluskey’s title for preciousness. “It used to be an ice cream social,” a stout volunteer named Sally explains, “but we switched to watermelon.” “Uh huh?” “Lactose intolerance.” The events of this school fundraiser exemplify darker social nuances and characters’ uneasy relationship to changed circumstance. . . McCluskey’s beguiling, frequently comic descriptors allow bitter nuance to seep in slowly, and the accomplished structure evades false nostalgia. Each story is an isolated segment of memory, association, or perspective, and each reminds us that a moment can be experienced from any number of mental directions.

Jane Henderson, The Dominion, May 2006

  • It seems to me that McCluskey’s underlying cynicism regarding the bizarre nature of our everyday lives has an optimistic romanticism at its core. “At some point … you have to forgive yourself — for everything. Every mistake, every weakness, real and imagined.” I detect a sense of hopefulness in this strong collection. Hopefulness? This suits me just now as I am hopeful to read more from this writer very soon.

Wendy McGrath, The Edmonton Journal, July 2006

  • Then we meet Bouncy and his drug-dealing bro, Crustachio, a.k.a. C. In One Bad Bounce, McCluskey narrows her sights and produces a concise, sardonic lament for all hormone-addled kids whose innocence has succumbed to a jargon-blighted, faux-rapper hell. An offhand slight to musical taste can tip the balance. “Why you be listenin to that lollipop shit? . . . You goin soft, C, like Snoop?” A Caddy SUV gets hotwired and a boy-man with a barcode tattoo and ecstasy pumping his ego puts pedal to the metal. After 130 pages, McCluskey achieves her tragic edge.

Jim Bartley, The Globe and Mail, May 2006

  • In Elaine McCluskey’s debut collection of short stories, readers are swept up in a world of banality and everyday drudgery that has been carefully caught in her wry humour and prose. . . McCluskey’s stories also offer up pieces of real Canadiana that make the reader feel right at home. She peppers her stories with talk of the anticipated Christmas Club Z catalogue, Mary Maxim sweaters, Canadian Tire money, Tim Horton’s and hosers getting into fights beside cherry red Chargers outside of strip malls.

Melanie Owen, The Calgary Herald, May 2006

  • McCluskey is the Queen of Invention. The endless sharp observations about surprisingly mobile modern-day life in the Maritimes are pointed and pungent; there are so many imaginative descriptions on every page that the book positively percolates with energy, wit and precision.

Ron Foley Macdonald, 2007

  • McCluskey creates convincing child characters, especially those just bordering on the teenage years. At 12 and 13 years old, young people may say little but a lot of meaning resides in those few words. McCluskey reproduces the concerns and conversational styles of the young, especially in “Eric Montross Sucks.” This story positions the reader between two friends, Brandon and Jeffrey, whispering in class, jumping from speculation on the whereabouts of the absent gym teacher (could he be in jail?) to another friend’s staring contest with a cat: “I think the cat could have gone longer if he’d known it was a contest.” McCluskey weaves Brandon and Jeffrey’s hilarious conversations in with scenes featuring the school principal, Mr. Wheedle, “who, the slimmest pretense, escapes to the mall.”

Sean Flinn, Quill and Quire, March 2006

  • The title story of The Watermelon Social was shortlisted for the 2004 Journey Prize: and for good reason. Her characters are vivid and unique, and her descriptive language is fresh, sometimes simple and sometimes boldly striking. The narrator’s son “smells like love” and another character’s maniacal laughter “pushes up against the teacher like a barroom drunk” Softness and tension often inhabit the same space, even the same simile. The air in the gym is “smug and claustrophobic” and the narrator recalls her kitchen, which, like one other room, was “painted hysterical yellow, thinking sunlight, for somehow the brown [walls], like mildew or sadness, couldn’t be covered”
    The Watermelon Social features original artwork by George Walker, is printed on Rolland’s Zephyr Antique Laid (rich and creamy), smyth-sewn and enfolded in a letterpress-printed jacket. It’s a quality work containing quality work: Elaine McCluskey is a writer to watch.

Marcie McCauley 2006

  • McCluskey, who is, according to the cover flap, a “former bureau chief for the Canadian Press news agency,” knows you well. She knows you watch freaks on Jerry Springer; she suspects you’ve enjoyed at least one of John Irving’s wacky realist novels; and she has pitched her stories to the warped sensibilities of Generation X. In short, the only slice of watermelon you’ll get is the one on the cover.

Andrew Atkinson (Books in Canada)