Book Review: Wild Gestures, by Lucy Durneen

An award-winning collection of short stories about people who are often struggling in some way – with melancholy, disappointment, relationships, illness or fear.

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Lucy Durneen is a lecturer in English and Creative Writing in England. This wonderful book of short stories is her first published collection and won the 2017 Saboteur Award for the Best Collection of Short Stories.

The stories are particularly rewarding for the reader who savours them – taking time to appreciate one before beginning another. Her characters are often struggling in some way – with melancholy, disappointment, relationships, illness or fear. Durneen has the ability to coordinate her words with her characters’ moods and eloquently describes human failings and frailties through her powerful narratives.

The first tale, Time is a River Without Banks, is a heart-rending story of a mother’s attempt to protect her child. It begins when the new house they buy has a door to a verandah in the baby’s room and the wife insists it should be boarded up. Later the windows are similarly boarded up. The girl is not allowed to play outside as her mother imagines her being hit by a car ‘…the mother could see her daughter walking…She could feel the darkness of the space under the cars, the darkness of bruises, and blood, so much blood’ (pages 23-24).

This overprotectiveness induces inevitable loss as the mother totally loses her daughter. The boarded up room and the lack of freedom for the child parallels the ‘boarded up’ mind and its lack of freedom for the mother, in that she knows she will lose everything she cherishes but is unable to stop herself.

I especially liked the very short story The Smallest of Things. It concerns a woman on a bus thinking of a myriad of things, something we’ve all done and each one leads on to thinking of even more things. But for this woman, all her thoughts seem to then remind her of something to be disappointed or angry about. In thinking about how many loads of washing she has done, she is reminded of the problem with the dryer, which in turn leads on to the unacceptability of not being able to get it repaired over the holiday weekend.

Even when she’s thinking about something that should be pleasant, such as a recent trip to a beauty spot, she remembers they had to pay for four hours parking even though they only stayed an hour because it was ‘really only somewhere beautiful’ (page 57), not at all what she was expecting. It seems that whatever happens to her is unfair, even the weather. As she implies, it is somehow the bus driver’s fault that it’s raining.

This is a well-written collection of stories which will repay the reader’s time and attention.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

Rating out of 10:  8

Released by: Midnight Sun Publishing
Release Date: January 2017
RRP: $24.99 paperback, $9.99 eBook

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