Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

"Story (Happenstance anthology)" (HappenStance, 2007)

p>Poetry pamphlets seem to be making a comeback, but what of story pamphlets? My guess is that multi-author prose pamphlets won't catch on, though monographs have a chance. This pamphlet of prizewinners has 2 stories of about 2 pages, and 2 of about 8 pages, by 4 authors. Given the context, the range of styles is wide, though the mood is pretty grim throughout - death and dysfunctional relationships dominate the non-fantasy pieces.

I'd like to focus on "Perfect Curls" by Sarah Evans, because it's closest to what I could write, and because I'm interested in the way the story unfolds - there's a narrative time (about 5 hours) containing events, but much of the revelation happens in flashbacks.

Spoiler Warning!

  • In section 1 Karen (the first-person narrator) is dithering about choosing shampoo. We see how her husband tried to help in practical ways with her indecision.
  • In section 2 the indecision is put into context. She's with a therapist who has an abstract painting called "autumn leaves" on her wall, alluding back to section 1, where trees' rich colours cheered Karen up. Karen notices that the therapist's hair is "tinted the same warm colours as her picture", alluding back to section 1's shampoo; ostentatiously tight writing. The therapist asks Karen about a hypothetical troubled couple, presenting various scenarios to see if Karen can decide on the best outcomes. She realises that the therapist's trying to address Karen's relationship with her husband. We learn that Karen no longer feels.
  • In section 3 the lack of feeling from section 2 is put into context. We're told that an operation to remove a benign brain tumour caused the change. Again, there are tidy allusions to hair, trees and colourful leaves. The tumor was in the emotion-centre, so why should that affect minor decision-making so much? We learn that the therapist has explained that decisions often aren't rational, "So even something like choosing shampoo is an emotional reaction"
  • In the final section, walking home, she compares her old and new selves: "we can't say no to chocolate"; "We both have difficulty making up our minds", she thinks, (the "making up" phrase carefully chosen). Perhaps there isn't such a difference between her old and new selves. Compared to the response to the loss of feeling, the pre-occupation with decision-making appears exaggerated - it's what exasperates her husband the most, the aspect he thinks he can help with. It's easier for her to say "I love you" as she used to, rather than to make decisions as she used to. Perhaps she's trying to defer a big decision she might soon have to make. In the final paragraph uncertainty, coin-tossing, and innate urges are satisfyingly combined.

The diction's of a higher register than expected or strictly required, which is my abiding doubt about the piece, whose title could have punningly been "I don't care".

No comments:

Post a Comment