Saskatoon’s Judy McCrosky has a reputation for pushing the limits. As a multi-genre writer she’s authored an eclectic repertoire of material, including literary short stories, sci-fi and fantasy, non-fiction, and even (under a pseudonym) a Silhouette Romance novel. In her latest short fiction collection, Lifting Weights, McCrosky asks us to step slightly outside the borders of reality and spend a few hours in unusual worlds that may be closer than we think.
This imaginative ten-story collection features a wide range of plots, from the moving “Shelter,” about a distraught mother navigating both her brain-injured son’s care and the return of her estranged husband, to a tale about a lonely pathologist, Andrea, who finds a “disgustingly cute” hamster in her home and soon has sixty-one furry new animal friends. This story makes parallel statements about the earth’s ecology (the shrinking ozone layer), and men’s inability to see beyond the surface of appearance when considering a partner. Andrea finds a warm community among her female, quilter friends, but when she goes to a party she has to “wear a dress of cute hamsters to be seen by men.”
The crowning story is “Death TV”. There’s a strong science fiction trend in movies (and Netflix TV series) currently, and I could easily see “Death TV” produced as a “Black Mirror” episode. The story concerns Perry, a photojournalist who is the “acknowledged expert on anything to do with the Death TV Network,” which is every iota as grim as it sounds. As the story opens, Perry’s sitting in a bar with a friend watching a TV screen: “… a man, wrinkled face peaceful, rolled his eyes toward the camera, and breathed his last. Perry reached for another handful of potato chips and munched on them, watching as the show switched to another deadbed scene.” The more gruesome the death scene – ie: motorcycle accidents, deaths on the series Gladiators – the more potential TV viewers. Sadly, this does not seem far-fetched.
Perry stays tuned to accident calls and races on his motorcycle to be first to photograph the deaths. In this future world – again, it seems frighteningly nearby – he breathes fresh air through an “Airomatic” (oxygen tank connected to his motorcycle). “Darwin laws” have made mandatory helmet-wearing a thing of the past: “New laws left people free to make their own choices, and that was the sign of a civilized society.” How brutal has civilization become? When a train-car collision call comes in, Perry considers what he may find. “Maybe the vehicle hit by the train would be more than just a single car. Maybe it would be a school bus.” Dying children, he thinks “would be good TV.”
Symbolism and contrast are major features in McCrosky’s unique work, and in “Death TV” the public’s hunger for death scenes is balanced against the life of a gentle mortician whose passion is caring for monarch butterflies. What happens when an associate producer from Death TV arrives at his door? Oh, you should really find out.
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