Saturday, August 13, 2011

Shorts

It’s the first week in a new school. It’s a class with boys, alien creatures in her single-child life. She has never felt so alone, friendless. And for reasons she never fathoms fully, the teacher makes her a candidate in the class election. Pitting her against a boy, whose popularity is so obvious, it seems faintly ridiculous to have an election at all. Heck, she wants to vote for him herself, though she does not. The defeat is crushing. Twenty six votes to four. She wonders for the rest of her life who those three kids were.

They have never had a conversation. The most popular boy in class and her. The boys in the class adore him. The girls are secretly in love with him. But these are the years when boys think it’s below their dignity to talk to girls and the girls are too superior to make the first move. So they go about their lives, not talking, never acknowledging each other. But she is conscious of him in a way she never has been conscious of a boy ever since. Three years. And then he leaves school for another city. And google has a name to search for now, forever.

It is a school camp. In a forested area near the city. It’s her first night away from home and is exciting in only the way any ‘first’ can be. They find a group of older boys, college kids in the camp. With long hair and guitars. Curiosity drags them near. The older boys laugh at them and drive them away. They slink back to mosquitoes and bad food and the stern teacher. But not before the nice looking college kid casually says to her, ”You have the loveliest eyes I’ve seen.” It’s a line she holds on to, into an adulthood that does not find her that lovely again.


The Turning

By Tim Winton

This is Australia. Small town Australia. Before Australia became rich. Tim Winton’s set of short stories plumbs the depths of people caught in the morass of everydayness. People stuck. Going to work day after day to a meat-packing factory. In a violent marriage. With a runaway father and a self-sacrificing mother. There are escapes. To the university, to the big city, out of Australia, turning to religion, burning houses behind. But there is never an escape from the impressions of childhood spent in an out-of-the-way town, seeing the destruction wrought by hopelessness and despair. It’s a rich inner world of ‘damaged souls’ that Winton explores. But it is bleak. Oh so bleak. It has none of the hopefulness of his Cloudstreet. And strangely, the bleakness is addictive. You can’t help but keep walking vicariously through the wreckage. Because Winton is a writer of some wise and exquisite prose. ”In the hot northern dusk, the world suddenly gets big around us, so big we just give in and watch.” “All the big things hurt, the things you remember. If it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t important.” Some mornings out in the misty ranges the world looks like it means something, some simple thing just out of my reach, but there anyway.” And that is compensation enough for the bleakness.