If you’re free next Sunday, head on down to Margaret River!
Yesterday, our playgroup at Hyde Park was rained out, so I decided to take my three year-old little guy to Beaufort Street Books. I was on the hunt for Susan Midalia’s collection of short stories, An Unknown Sky. We parked on a side street and waited; the rain was coming down in torrents. I could see that the deluge wasn’t going to abate any time soon, so I told Lewis to climb on my back; we were going to make a run for it. We tore along the street, splashing, laughing as the rain pooled in our shoes. He yelled, “Giddy up!’ and cracked his whip and it was one of those moments, those rare moments, when you feel like you’re right in the middle of life; you’re living and you know what it’s all about. Good short stories are like that; in one moment, or many, something is elucidated; something unknown or unseen or forgotten, becomes perceptible again.
We arrived at the bookstore dripping and the lovely bookseller welcomed us inside, raindrops on our eyelashes, feet all a-squelch. I found the book quickly, and the woman at the cash register nodded with approval.
‘Susan Midalia is a beautiful writer,’ she said, before handing my boy a green jelly baby and waving us goodbye.
Lolly in mouth, splashing all the way, Lewis was an image of childhood pleasure as we headed through the drizzle to the car. I tucked my brown paper package beneath my jumper, as yet unaware of the treasure held there.
I babysat my friend’s three boys in the afternoon, so I didn’t get a chance to look at the book again until 7:30pm when the house grew silent. My boys were asleep and I felt nothing but relief. Oh, the joy of being alone after a long day in the company of children!
I was so very moved by Susan’s stories. There were goose bumps involved. After reading The boy with no ears and An Unknown Sky, I was compelled to go and take a look at my two sleeping boys. They have a bunk bed but they always end up intertwined on the bottom mattress. I watched them sleep: their baby-soft features stilled, their bodies wrapped up in each other. I kissed them. I sniffed their shampoo-sweet hair, with the knowledge that one day, they will be gone. Those little bodies will grow and they’ll be out in the world; this will be nothing but a dulcet memory.
When my eldest clambered into bed with me in the night, I didn’t shoo him away; I held him and gave thanks for the moment: my boy, nearly eight years old, head nestled at my neck.
Midalia’s stories gave me a new lens through which to look at my life. Such is the power of fiction. There is kindness at every turn in this collection; I particularly loved the forgiving portrayal of a vulnerable and desperate mother in The boy with no ears. There is a sentimentality that never feels gratuitous; Midalia teases at the heart strings with subtlety. Her prose is beautiful, every sentence carrying the perfect weight. I’ll certainly have to savour the last of these short stories.
I’m still reading Hurakami’s 1Q84 and I’m well and truly down the rabbit hole with no idea where I’m headed. I began the audio-book on my trip down to Margaret River; since then, I’ve traversed many kilometres and many moons: there are two worlds and two narratives in this tome of a novel. I’m disoriented; I’m even dreaming about this book. I find myself thinking of our main protagonists, Tengo, Fuka-Eri and Aomame at strange moments, and I’m keen to return to them.
The thing is, I’m mesmerised, but I have a strong sense that there will be no great pay-off at the end of this book. I’m very invested in the characters and I think I’ll miss them when they’re gone, so I’m okay with that. I’ll take great characters and narrative pacing over a good conclusion any day.
One of my favourite TV series is LOST. I thought the storytelling was superb; the characterisation just about perfect. But the ending was forced, and it left plenty of invested viewers disgruntled. I didn’t care, and I’ll defend that show until the end of days.
What do you think? Are you bothered when a narrative fails on a plot level but leaves you wistful for the friends you’ve made along the way?
Last weekend, I had a timely break from ‘real life’. I packed a small bag of clothes and a laptop and drove south. The journey was surreal; I was listening to an audiobook of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, and the landscape kept changing; from sterile housing estates to parched bush and finally, forests filled with a great glut of lilies. In the first chapter of 1Q84, one of the characters says:
‘…you’re about to do something out of the ordinary… and after you do something like that, the everyday look of things might seem to change a little. Things may look different to you than they did before.’
This passage resonated with me; I could already feel my reality shifting, and, indeed, I have come home with a different perspective. I feel lighter, and fuller, all at once.
I really enjoyed being in the company of literary greatness: Amanda Curtin, Susan Midalia, Dawn Barker, Deborah Burrows and Lynne Leonhardt. I’d like to send out a big public thank-you to Caroline Wood, our lovely host . I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to access the collective wisdom of such experienced authors. There was plenty of laughter too!