Ottawa
2 min

Vixens, vampires & vegans

Springtime in Alberta chills me to the bone

HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL. Suzette Mayr's Venous Hum takes a hellish class reunion to new depths. Credit: Capital Xtra files

As someone who would rather bury her teenage years deep inside a cave than cheerfully revisit them with a “Hello. My Name Is…” tag pasted to her chest, the appeal of high-school reunions is lost on me. I can’t work up enough enthusiasm over my former classmates’ promotions and marriages or enough schadenfreude over their bald spots, crow’s feet or paunches to make it worthwhile. For most of us, high school was a stuttery, badly coiffed, greasy-foreheaded, hormone-soaked nightmare best laid to rest. Is there really any wisdom to be gained, or closure procured, by finding out that Kelly from grade 11 chemistry is now the top real-estate seller in Chatham?



In Venous Hum, Alberta author Suzette Mayr turns the horror of high school reunions into genuine comic horror. Best friends and bored moms, Lai Fun Kugelheim and Stefanja Dumanowski decide to organize a 20-year reunion after hearing about the cancer death of a high school friend. Both are in serious need of an escape. Stefanja’s dope-smoking husband is too busy writing his unsellable mafia screenplay to get work that will pay the bills. Lai Fun’s ambitious wife Jennifer is too busy working to pay attention to her, so Lai Fun satisfies her pregnancy-induced horniness by sleeping with Stefanja’s husband. She justifies it by telling herself that since she’s a lesbian, having sex with a man doesn’t count as cheating – even if he is married to her best friend.



Inevitably the reunion begins to derail as the former popular kids – including a gay, closeted, now-married, native football star – take over the planning and Lai Fun’s life spins further out of control. Her desperate invitations have reached even the dead – like Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Sunnydale, Calgary seems to be located over a hellmouth full of zombies and vampires (insert your Ralph Klein joke here) – who decide to crash the party.



When it comes to lesbian social mores, Mayr is a very funny satirist – from Lai Fun’s extravagant wedding complete with matching silk skirt suits and vegan cake, to the dyke who explains her bad breakup as being due to “the oil in the brand of pesto sauce we used was full of histamines and that’s what was getting me down.” And Mayr’s depiction of a racist elementary school teacher who literally feeds off the blood of black and brown children she reluctantly “assimilates” is a vivid, original feat of writing. (As is frequently noted in the novel, Lai Fun and her rainbow classmates are products of Trudeau-era multiculturalism and Venous Hum can be read, in part, as a love letter to the former prime minister.)



Less effective are the elements of horror. Lai Fun’s parents, Louve and Fritz-Peter, are delightful characters, a stylish, bilingual, biracial, supernatural couple with dubious appetites, but I found myself wishing for more back story. And having a high school reunion turn into a gathering of the undead is a fabulous premise, but Mayr underplays the horror-camp potential.



Still, if Lai Fun’s class decides to meet again in another 20 years, it would be one high-school reunion I’d be happy to attend.



VENOUS HUM.

Suzette Mayr.

Arsenal Pulp Press.

231 pages. $21.95.