Meticulous, Sad and Lonely
Review by Samarra Goldglas
A boy kills his brother for some peace and quiet, a baby regularly grows nickels behind his ear, and a neglectful father escapes a mugging by screaming about an imagined mob boss. A collection of short stories detailing a variety of Napoleons, bears in crowns, and themes of loss, family, and death, Ian Roy’s Meticulous, Sad and Lonely is a masterpiece in the absurd.
Roy’s work explores death from all perspectives: from those dying and realizing they are going to die, to those who are killing, to those dealing with the death of another, whether a stranger, loved one or not-so-loved one. This exploration of death finally comes to a perceived close with his afterlife story, “This is What Happened When I Died”, wherein a dead man may ask any one question he chooses, but both his final question and the divine answer are blacked out on the page, denying readers the closure and leaving only more questions. The dead man gets on a bus and decides that maybe he does understand, but we, the readers, will have to wait. While the story first appears to be an answer, in the end, it asserts that life is not about answers, it is about questions.
In another doom-inspired piece, “There’s a Little Black Spot”, Roy writes about a man watching a black spot in the sky widen and consume the entire world. An absence of fear in the face of death is a feature of the collection and once the spot grows to consume the stars in the night sky, his town and, eventually, his own body, the man watches calmly, because, when death is unavoidable, there is no need for fight or flight and one can accept it with ease. When the man first notices the spot, however, those around him are generally unconcerned about the approaching doom, coming up with various explanations from an eclipse to a pollution-caused hole, which, to me, is a reflection of humankind’s real-life ability to overlook the impending environmental crisis.
The title piece, “Meticulous, Sad and Lonely”, follows Muriel as she finds, loses, and reclaims her perfect career, wherein she must identify and catalogue the food stains left in library books. The position, “Client-Generated Foodstuff Discolouration Consultant” is a perfect example of Roy’s use of the ridiculous in his humour, but the piece goes deeper than its silly premise. (19) As Muriel finds love, she becomes less sad, less lonely, and, by extension, less meticulous, especially at work. The domino effects of her job loss are a sadness that ruins her relationship and a return to loneliness. Meticulous, sad and lonely once again, she exerts a Herculean effort in order to regain her dream job. The conscious decision to commit to a life of sadness is not pathetic for Muriel, it is triumphant. Roy perfectly describes what it means to settle, an important lesson for a society built on the concept of having it all.
Wild animals are personified for situational humour, whether a picky lion who refuses to eat a writer’s croissant-infused beard, or an obnoxious uncle with an elephant head, but the crown-sporting bear features in not one, but three separate pieces. In the collection’s finale, “Beats Sitting in a Cage All Day”, the bear is the protagonist. He is a zoo employee who wears the crown to fill in as “king of the jungle” for the deceased lion. (103) His job is to sit in a cage all day, but his bike ride home and his family life are “exactly right.” (105) His mundane life is a shock after the two references to him in “When Mother Loved the Bear”, where he woos a woman from her family, and “The Three Napoleons” where, as a potential reference to the Russian Bear, he plays chess with, and then kills, Napoleon Bonaparte in a dream. Roy’s final piece reveals the underwhelming truth: he is just a regular guy who happens to be a bear, but aren’t we all?
If you want a chuckle as you think about impending doom, Ian Roy’s Meticulous, Sad and Lonely is a must. The stories pose a multitude of questions, but rarely provide any answers. Instead, Roy focuses on describing situations, feelings, and relationships with a conversational tone and sharp, silly humour to bring out the beauty in even the saddest situation. Each character, no matter how unique, is flawed and full of their own desires and no one is ever quite happy.
Samarra Goldglas is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia and has a BA in Creative Writing, English, and French from The University of Western Ontario. She has been published in Western’s online student journal, Occasus and their Arts and Humanities Student Council journal, Symposium. She shares her small room in a five-person house with a cat and dog with whom she sometimes attempts to have rational conversation.