A Review: Strange Heaven by Lynn Coady


A Review:

Strange Heaven by Lynn Coady


By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis


Category: Literary Fiction

Author: Lynn Coady

Format: Trade Paperback, 216 pages

Publisher: Goose Lane Editions

ISBN: 978-086492-617-3

Pub Date: May 28, 2010


Strange Heaven by Lynn Coady is a fiercely intelligent and honest, transparent novel about a teenage girl named Bridget Murphy who first transfers herself to a children’s hospital psychiatric ward after giving birth to a baby and putting it up for adoption and then returns home for the Christmas holidays to her rambunctious and irreverent family.


She is at the centre of the book as its narrator who is surrounded by dysfunctional, yet authentic characters found in the ward as Mona, the suspected pathological liar; Kelly and Maria, starving young girls with anorexia; and Byron, the insecure and attention-seeking megalomaniac.

Together they form a quasi-family of sorts, one that is bound by the common thread of illness, dysfunction, and burden of being ostracized and misunderstood.


The psychiatric ward becomes a form of escape and refuge for Bridget as well as an experimental outlet in which she can decide how she wants to respond to her personal trauma of birthing and ultimately who she can be as she creates for herself an adamant assertion to remain if not completely cold, certainly distant and outwardly indifferent.

Those in the ward, too, represent the communal angst that reverberates throughout the helplessness and anxiety of the youth destitute towards the banality of pub-crawls and fist fights that daily drinking incurs, caged in a small town. But, they also represent a community in which Bridget’s apathy is not as isolated as she would prefer it to be—that is to say—Bridget Murphy is not alone.


 And though her escape route to the children’s psychiatric ward is merely temporary since she’s obligated to return home for the Christmas holidays, her experience there has influenced her outlook, however slight and undetected it may seem to be in the novel.

The true story is found in her return to her zany, politically incorrect, and outrageous family which includes:

Margaret P., her bedridden grandmother whose obsession with Catholic religious artifacts are just as strong as her ageing confusion, sharp retorts, and bedpan banging on her bedroom wall to beckon her family to her.


Uncle Albert, whose persistent cheerfulness is largely due to his good intentions about Bridget’s welfare, his resignation to the bottle after 30+ years of sobriety, and a commitment to return to an active participation in Alcoholics Anonymous.


 Uncle Rollie, who is developmentally delayed, often the butt of the family’s jokes as perverse affection,  and whose unrelenting devotion to Margaret P. is as evident as his natural talent for woodwork in the forms of the Virgin Mary and other biblical figures and saints.


 Bridget’s mother, whose compassion and patience is as ready and active as her tongue in sharing the latest news of death in the town as a form of truth and newsworthy gossip.


 And Bridget’s father, whose incessant hollering is filled with surprisingly witty profanities, politically incorrect comments, and truths that stem from a private sentimentality and protective nature towards those he loves.


Overall, although the reader may be taken aback by the profanity and the brutal honesty of the subject matter of the book and its dialogue, its irreverence and natural flow is remarkably real and hilarious that it is through the characters’ innate flaws that they become refreshingly authentic and even endearing.

And while Bridget’s apathy seems to confuse her so-called friends and social circle (Heidi, Mark, Stephen, and Alan) as she pulls herself away from the pedantic routine of basement parties, drinking binges, and promiscuity as a result of small-town boredom rather than real need or desire, Bridget herself, though unconscious of her own growing change and maturity, remains  non-judgemental towards her friends and her family. She simply wishes to disassociate herself from them through her resilient silence and unwavering, cool distance.

The audacity of the writing is brave and astonishing as it is real, honest, and from an author’s general inclination, risky. But, that’s what makes this book so revealing, empathetic, and true — not to mention, good.

The reader can finally laugh abruptly—not titter, but guffaw—and empathize with the main character in her clean and raw observations, and recognize the internal war between passivity and action towards either personal potential or ruin—and the dark humour of death, disease, and the enduring and sometimes overbearing connection to one’s own family.

Strange Heaven as Lynn Coady’s debut novel published in 1998 reveals a wise and capable storyteller and a true novelist with profane guts.


Zara’s Rating


A special thank you to Goose Lane Editions for providing me with a media copy of the book in exchange for an unpaid, honest review.


Every family has its own “uniqueness.” What’s wonderfully “unique” about your family?


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