Uncomfortably Numb by Sharon English  

A city suburb, 1980. The front of propriety, the freakish stillness and the bush parties. This is the home of Germaine Stevens, a social misfit who thinks she’s struck ultimate cool when she’s accepted into her preppie high school’s only counter-culture group, the Rockers. Yet has she really just traded one kind of conformity for another? And is she still a loser?

Her friends are desperate characters: Regina’s on the road to ruin, Bono’s more boy than girl, and Jackie’s postering her bedroom into a rock‘n’roll tomb. Yet beneath the party-hardy attitude, no one is as disaffected as they seem, or want to be.

In a voice that ranges from tough to achingly vulnerable, Sharon English powerfully conveys the anger, lust and absurdity that spiral into one girl’s growing fight against the tuned-out numbness of her world.

Review text

‘Germaine-German-Germ Steeves is not one of MacKenzie High’s preppie all-stars. She smokes pot on a regular basis with the other losers and gets full columns of C’s on her report cards. One of her best friends is turning her bedroom into a monument to dead rock stars; the other is known as the Blow Job Queen. All Germaine wants to do is survive her parents’ tough love program, get a real boyfriend, and make it through high school. After Grade 9, only four more years to go. Wellington, Ontario, circa 1980, where every kid knows every lyric to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, is the setting for this collection of linked stories. English tells each story from Germaine’s point of view as she struggles through high school. We see Germaine’s shifting attitudes, beliefs, and expectations, and never for a moment do we doubt that she is genuine. Each story is written differently, the style changing as Germaine changes. In the later stories, the style is a little more experimental, drawing us into the murkiness and confusion that Germaine is experiencing. The last story, though, is very clear-headed, as she has a revelation and is filled with hope about life after MacKenzie High. As with potato chips, you can’t consume just one of these stories at a sitting. English’s writing is powerful and addictive -- so much so that at the end of the last story I wanted to turn back to the first page and start over.’

—Linda Bayley, Canadian Book Review Annual

Review quote

‘The Wellington of Sharon English’s debut collection is a city unmistakably like her hometown of London, Ont. A linked-story exploration of teenage angst and folly, this book would likely make its author the main event at her high-school reunion -- if she dared to show. In the tidy suburb of Greenview, Germaine Stevens joins her friend Jackie in a darkened bedroom. Jackie may have ‘‘an idiot’’ for a dad -- but a useful one. He’s a drug wholesaler with a station wagon full of samples. To the raw tones of Meat Loaf, the girls pop tabs of Probene ‘‘for the relief of stress, anxiety and mental agitation.’’ Barely graduated from building snow forts, the two now collaborate on bedroom shrines to flamed-out rock stars. Jimi Hendrix gets a black baby doll mummified in gauze; Jim Morrison sulks from a poster with X’s taped over his eyes. Germaine (‘‘Germ’’ to her dearest) is our jaded guide to a life cursed with two-faced parents, laughable teachers and gag-making, uncool schoolmates -- such as Debbie, who whispers in French class with minty breath, ‘‘It’s freaky ... but I really feel Tony’s my destiny.’’ She’s even got the diamond to prove it.’

—Jim Bartley, Globe & Mail

Review quote

‘Irony is left to the characters, who use it like a weapon. The result is highly readable, peppered with spicy bad-girlishness and teenage suburban wretchedness that rings true on nearly every page. It is nostalgic without being mawkish, reminding the reader that, no matter how many times we hear that youth is everything, trying to stay cool in high school is an often-lost battle.’

—Sue McCluskey, THIS magazine

Unpublished endorsement

‘English’s first collection adds weight to the premise that the linked short story is our strongest form. She risks the hard discipline of remaining in the heart and behind the eyes of a suburban teenager, and with no narrative cheating. She pulls it off.’

—Steven Heighton


Sharon English is the author of two collections of short stories. Zero Gravity (Porcupine’s Quill, 2006) was long-listed for the 2007 Giller Prize, short-listed for the 2007 ReLit Award, and included as a Globe and Mail notable book for 2006. English’s first collection, Uncomfortably Numb, was praised by the Globe and Mail, THIS Magazine and Books in Canada, among others, for being ‘highly readable,’ with a deft use of ‘language that ambushes the reader.’ Sharon has also published stories in numerous journals, including Best Canadian Stories, 2004.

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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FICTION / Short Stories


ISBN-13: 9780889842502

Publication Date: 2002-10-30

Dimensions: 8.81 in x 5.62 in

Pages: 200

Price: $18.95