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She tried to call Conor once she left the store, but all she got was a cheery robot directing her to leave a message: he hadn’t even bothered to put his own voice into the system. She told him that he should wake up, she was on her way home right now, and understood what a pointless message it was as soon as she finished speaking. Her voice seemed to echo back at her and she imagined some vast warehouse where they stored all such unwanted messages, a black space filled with the ceaseless murmur of unheeded questions and complaints and pleas.
I have had the beginnings of an idea for a yarn tickling the back of my mind for days now. It is frustrating me because I feel this flush of resentment that so much of my time is occupied by reading and writing for this blog instead of working on my own ideas – until of course the realization hits that this blog is the best thing that ever happened to me in terms of sticking to a writing routine. I am exposing myself to authors I never would have read before, becoming inspired by the constant immersion in stories that rest outside my comfort zone of reading material.
I have to remind myself just how lucky I am.
Security is one of those modern novels that introduces a number of different protagonists to the reader and then interweaves their stories, building to an eventual climax where they all cross paths. Amidon includes a number of scenes in a creative writing class, where the students debate the value of ‘truth’, in a memoir. I was reminded of Todd Solondz‘s Storytelling which also features a creative writing class where truth is an early fatality in the quest for shock value, the real meat and potatoes of non-fiction confessionals.
Edward Inman is a solid, well-intentioned family man who runs a security company in the progressive college town of Stoneleigh. Suffering from recurring bouts of sleep deprivation he finds himself driving late at night instead of sleeping in his own home. His relationship with his wife Meg has cooled and his work excuses him from the marriage bed. Early one morning he passes the son of a former flame, staggering drunkenly home. He gives the boy a lift to his home and upon meeting Connor’s mother Katherine wonders whether his calm and ordered life took a wrong turn.
Katherine herself is at her wits end with her increasingly silent and feckless dropout son. Connor never tells her where he goes at night, sleeps off his drunk during the day and becomes aggressive when she asks him to find work. She is tired of being a mother to a young man who treats her with so little respect. Katherine remembers how she used to have passion and dreams before her spirit was crushed.
Angela is a college student secretly having an affair with her writing instructor Stuart. She shares the class with Mary Steckl, daughter of the town drunk who was accused by Meg Inman of indecent exposure. What began as a police complaint led to Meg’s growing political career, inspired by the charges against Steckl being dropped. Mary has had to live with the reputation of her father ever since. She is vulnerable and isolated, with only Angela feeling the smallest measure of sympathy for her in the classroom pecking order.
When a young woman is assaulted, the perception of Stoneleigh as a safe town is finally shattered. Accusations are levelled and paranoia runs rampant. The debate started by Mary Steckl in the writing class is shown to be a microcosm for the concerns of the town at large – discover the truth, or invent a lie salacious enough to entertain the mob.
Stephen Amidon‘s story has a light Ballardian touch, showing how the close-knit lives of this small community exist in isolation from one another courtesy of technology. The structure of the family unit itself is at stake, with the ambiguous climax symbolically representing the threat posed to it. Thematically the book addresses the compulsive need in modern society to protect families from the outside world, even at the expense of any real engagement with others.
Amidon perfectly captures the uses of fear in political discourse, as well as the fragility of the family structure itself. The story is gripping with the competing narrative strands woven together convincingly.
When Ernest leans forward, his breath is warm and sticky on Barbara’s neck. She can feel her hairs stiffen in response, and a queer vibration passes down her spine, as though a part of that knotted bone had become, momentarily, gelatinous.
It has been a lousy day. Originally I intended to review Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black, a book I have kept on the back-burner for months now. Unfortunately our family dog fell ill, so it’s been a day filled with trips back and forth from vet surgeries and drives out to a pet hospital.
We’re a bit weary now. So I chose a slimmer volume to review for today’s entry. Tomorrow I will return to Mantel’s larger novel and give it its due.
Inventing the Abbots and Other Stories contains several shorts, each a commentary on contemporary sexual mores. The title story is the first within the collection, concerning a family of three daughters and the passions they inspire in two brothers.
The younger sibling, Doug, is our narrator and he describes how his brother Jacey falls in and out of love with each of the Abbot sisters. The titular family rule the social set of the small town of Haley. An invitation to one of their many birthday or coming out parties is considered an entry to the social upper crust.
The title is arrived at courtesy of Jacey and Doug’s mother, a war widow who recognizes that her eldest son’s affairs are evidence of a need for affection and security which she cannot provide. Doug’s incredulous narration reveals how innocently he viewed each of the social gatherings he attended at the Abbots, little realizing how little regard they had for his own family. Jacey’s attraction to the daughters seems born out of some compulsion relating to his feelings of resentment due to being ‘from the wrong side of the tracks’.
By choosing to tell the story from the Doug’s point of view, Miller disguises the real purpose of her tale. For the three girls within the Abbot house-hold are described as objects, signs of social status and a lifestyle that they find themselves trapped within. They are afforded no independence from the wishes of their family, from the high regard with which they are held by the community at large and so the romantic interest that Jacey shows in them is in fact entirely removed from their selves.
My favourite story within the collection is Appropriate Affect where an elderly grandmother seizes the opportunity of a stay in hospital to let her husband and family know exactly what she thinks of them. It’s a brilliant little satire on the lies families tell themselves to maintain their orderly worlds. Slides examines the dilemma of naked photos outlasting a relationship, a somewhat familiar problem in today’s world of youtube, facebook and camera phones.
Each story concerns issues of sexuality. Each description of a failing marriage, or relationships strained by infidelity and deception, is infused with a delicate sense of poignancy.
This is a series of well-told tales of love and lust that recognize the frailties of the human heart. Perfectly poised and delicate.