Six short stories featuring characters in transition, not always of their own volition for example redundancy in the title story where the narrating character, who is being made redundant, is observing the stress facing by someone who, through an affair with a married man, is not only keeping her job but being promoted. It’s a measure of the writer’s skill that the promoted woman retains the reader’s sympathy.
In “Lilac Tree” the narrator slips through the net and heads for rock bottom, “No one asks me why I drink and I’m glad, because I don’t really have an answer. Maybe it’s that flood of darkness. The fade of the world with each swallow, the fade of the world with each glass. To be something unordered. To have thoughts undefined. But still there is the loneliness.” The narrator, like characters is the other stories, is allowed problems but not self-pity and there’s a hint of redemption towards the end.
Bruises feature either in descriptions of colour or actual bruises reflecting the internal damage felt by characters. In “The Noises of Being Torn”, the narrator knows her relationship with her lover is coming to an end but isn’t ready to move on quite yet, she observes “To want someone, it doesn’t take much. It doesn’t have to be about how beautiful a whole face is. Maybe a pair of eyes is just the right colour. Or they light their cigarette in just the right way. Or their hands are the kind of hands that you like. Then they’re crushing your thoughts and everything is crowded with them.” Before musing on the need to divide everything up and create two separate lives again.
Although each story does stand alone, some of the characters and situations recur giving the reader the opportunity to see them from another angle and giving the collection a sense of coherence. The characters are credibly drawn with minimal but telling details. Plot-wise some of these stories do have a “not a lot happens” feel but they are not pacey, plot-driven set scenes packed with witty one-liners with characters whose sole purpose is to keep the plot moving. Their strength is that they give the reader space and time to absorb stories told at the character’s pace in the character’s own words. Hannah Stevens cares about how her stories are told.
By Emma Lee
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