Toronto Book Award Winner Cordelia Strube is back with another caustic, subversive, and darkly humorous book
Stevie, a recovering alcoholic and kitchen manager of Chappy’s, a small chain restaurant, is frantically trying to prevent the people around her from going supernova: her PTSD-suffering veteran son, her uproariously demented parents, the polyglot eccentrics who work in her kitchen, the blind geriatric dog she inherits, and a damaged five-year-old who landed on her doorstep and might just be her granddaughter.
In the tight grip of new corporate owners, Stevie battles corporate’s “restructuring” to save her kitchen, while trying to learn to forgive herself and maybe allow some love back into her life. Stevie’s biting, hilarious take on her own and others’ foibles will make you cheer and will have you loving Misconduct of the Heart (in the immortal words of Stevie’s best line cook) “like never tomorrow. ”
Cordelia Strube is an accomplished playwright and the author of nine critically acclaimed novels, including Teaching Pigs to Sing, Lemon, and On the Shores of Darkness, There Is Light. Winner of the CBC literary competition and a Toronto Arts Foundation Award, she has been nominated for the Governor General’s Award, the Trillium Book Award, the W.H. Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award, and the Prix Italia, and longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. A two-time finalist for ACTRA’s Nellie Award celebrating excellence in Canadian broadcasting, she is also a three-time nominee for the ReLit Award.
“Do you remember Stan?” I ask.
“Of course. ”
“He pulled me from the dishpit. Taught me everything I know. ”
“You were teacher's pet. He called the rest of us dipshits and ne'er do wells. ”
“I went to see him in hospital. It was weird because there was nothing to say really, outside Chappy's. I said I'd visit him again but he told me not to come back. ”
“I visited him a bunch of times. ”
“Before he died. ”
“He let you?”
“I didn't give him a choice. He had nobody. ”
“But, I mean, you just showed up at the hospital even though he told you not to?”
“I brought him thermal socks. His feet were cold. ”
That I didn't have the courage to do this, to show my devotion despite Stan's objections, reactivates a seething inner loss. I grab a rubber band and stretch it between my fingers.
“He talked about you,” Conquer says, “was worried you wouldn't be able to handle the take-over. All the corporate shit. ”
“How wrong he was. I am one corporate animal. ” The rubber band snaps.
“What did Bob say?”
“Bob is taking an online course called Discovering Inner Pathways to Success. He is learning about the importance of empathy and understands that he needs to be more empathic, only he keeps saying 'emphatic' because, as you know, he's dyslexic. ”
“Tell me about it. Last week he saw a truck in the parking lot with Geek Squad on it and wanted to know what a Greek Salad truck was doing outside Chappy's. ”
“Conquer, it's time you learned to appreciate the upside of Bob. Imagine if we had a real general manager giving real orders—a corporate manager we couldn't ignore. ”
In a Viking quandary, he savours blueberry water. I need a shower to get Bartholomew off me, to become fully sober, to manage my regrets about deserting Stan all yellow and bloated with cold feet; Stan who didn't call me a dipshit or a ne'er do well. Who told me I did whizzbang jobs. Why couldn't I interpret that “don't come back” meant come back and bring me thermal socks? Why do I cave so easily?
“I wish my son didn't hate me,” I say.
Conquer shrugs. “Kids hate their parents. ”
“Chappy’s is a richly drawn, darkly comic world filled with the clashing cultures of a mostly immigrant staff, an incompetent boss whose ego Stevie adroitly manipulates, and frequent equipment problems . . . [Stevie is] a prickly, self-aware narrator . . . Even as intimacy and affection slip into Stevie's life, her gritty narration holds sentimentality at bay. Forget Canadian ‘niceness’; Strube's angry, hard-boiled characters confront the same ugly problems found below the 48th parallel. ” — Kirkus Reviews
“Cordelia Strube's 11th novel hurtles out of the gate and never lets up . . . All the grief in this novel would be far too much to bear except that Strube has an absolute gift for humour. Stevie is smart, funny, and sensitive . . . a remarkably engaging character. ” — Quill & Quire starred review
“Despite my pandemic-related personal reading failures, I was very glad and very grateful, in those difficult moments, to have a story of people surviving the worst by laughing their way through it by my side . . . The book is darkly funny, even heartwarming. It is real, and raw, and jarring, and frenetic, and upsetting — but it is also about people being deeply loyal, and showing up for each other . . . Making people laugh during times like this is a gift, and it is one that Strube’s admirable Stevie has mastered. ” — Open Book
“This is not a feel-good comedy at all, but oh it’s so richly funny. Funny in the way the world is, absurd, preposterous, sad and hilarious . . . And even feel-good, because there is hope and there is triumph, and the reader is rooting for every single one of these lovable losers to finally win . . . There is nobody else who writes like Cordelia Strube, and this is one of my favourite books of the year. ” — Pickle Me This blog