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Reading, thinking, writing …


At last, a post and a review – Inherited!




It’s three months since I last posted anything. In that time I have closed my practice, packed it up, packed up my worldly possessions into a container and having farewelled all my beloveds, hauled me and it to Melbourne, where I am now on week 3, day 3.

It’s quite a thing to do and has taken up all my time and energy. I have not read much and am just getting back into it now. Having said that, the review below has been languishing for about two months. Happily, I’m starting to feel less like I’m on an extended holiday and this is actually my new life, and writing, reading and reviewing are a central part of it. So, here it is, second review for this year – given I nominated for 10, I’d better crack on!


       Inherited by Amanda Curtin

Published November 15th 2011 by University of Western Australia Press (first   published January 1st 2011)
ISBN  1742582931 (ISBN13: 9781742582931)
Anyone who has read my previous review of Amanda Curtin’s ‘The Sinkings’ will know I am a huge Amanda fan. After reading this collection of nineteen short stories, I still am, and all the more admiring of her brilliant wordsmithing. The stories are arranged into seven sections, titled Keeping, Wanting, Surviving, Remembering, Breaking, Leaving and Returning – this should give you some idea of the arc of what is explored in these stories. I read them one per night, so that each could be savoured, considered and felt. And lordy, did I do some feeling! These stories, even though they be brief, pack an emotional wallop, each and every one. That’s the skill in short story writing, shown in masterful abundance in Inherited – each story is a lightburst in the dark, illuminating a circumscribed slice of life, but doing so brilliantly and so fiercely it leaves you blinking and contemplating the after-image for quite some time.

The stories are stand-alone tales, tied together under a theme encapsulated neatly in the title “Inherited”. Each explores an aspect, a detail, an existential enquiry into going-on-being, whether that is in the form of material things, stuff, and what it means or stories, or lives or history both personal and public; as in the delightful Sarah’s Ark where the protagonist collects corks, or The Prospect of Grace where the ocean-set statue of C.Y. O’Connor is set against the history of the man and ranges across time, from 1902 to 2000. Once you have read this, that sculpture is no longer just a somewhat weird statue at a beach, nor can it be misunderstood as a “a romantic tragedy”. I used to swim my dogs there and could never understand why, of all the great scope of his being, suicide was the moment chosen to commemorate his life. Perhaps collective guilt. O’Connor’s suicide is juxtaposed against Michael Hutchence’s questionable death – and the wives of each are considered too, each wrestling with the pain of abandonment, of having not been enough, of having perhaps not done enough. 

What lies inside, behind, under, are repeating themes across the stories, along with experiences of pain, loss, terror, disillusionment, hope, everyday joys. How things both change and don’t change is beautifully captured in Live Forever in which a woman, Paige, is dying within the parameters of a neglectful relationship and a distracted, absent not-husband. She returns again and again to the museum, to take in (not just look at) the nineteenth century paintings of A Famous Politicians Wife asking “What is it that makes some things endure?” When she returns for the last time, the paintings, like her, are undone; taken out of their frames and exposed in all their ordinary, imperfect reality, bearing the marks and scars of their history, like Paige, like all of us. And of course, Paige knows it’s all about love. 

There are a few standout stories for me – Dove made me actually cry (no mean feat, I can tell you), in it’s exploration of what really matters, of wanting, not wanting, having too much, being misconstrued by loved ones, whilst others have barely enough or not enough, or a different sort of ‘other’ is dying in your empty house.

Rush was pure horror – the incomprehension when a young woman’s life hangs precariously in the balance and we readers get to figure out what is happening right along with her. The horrible experience of suffocating, of being trapped, was so well drawn it evoked a need to keep reading on, to see what happens, hoping for rescue. What happens made it necessary for me turn the light back on for a while before sleep, and then it worked into my dreams.  Amanda, how could you leave us where you did! (And as well, of course that’s where it had to end). That’s what I mean by emotional wallop!

The last story, Gratitude, is a study of grief and how it changes us. A mother has lost her son and sets up a vigil at the place by the road where he was killed by an unknown driver. A callous reporter, perfectly described as a “rude intrusion” and who refers to such bereaved people as “sadlings” (“no disrespect intended”)arrives to get the story. He is unmoved, exercising the correct social forms but feeling nothing other than a circumscribed revulsion against her raw, intense feelings, the lack of stimulation in the featureless surrounds (“Who’d live here? If you want rural, go live in the country, there’s plenty of it.”) and is impatient to be gone. Over the next few weeks the journalist passes by the spot again and again and each time notices a little more life there, more and more … he starts to go there deliberately and then  … well, you’ll just have to read it, won’t you?