Thursday, July 15, 2010

Last Days of Summer - Vicki Thornton - Review

Vicki Thornton is a Victorian writer who lives in the picturesque Dandenongs. Last Days of Summer (Mockingbird) is her first collection of short stories.

Thornton’s style is sparse, her stories brief. Brief enough to fill the smallest moments in a day. Those moments between the usual domestic chores and family pressures, but though the stories are brief they have a depth and subtlety that can linger for hours or days. Longer.

In ‘For a Moment’ we are introduced to Billie, as seen through the eyes of an innocent unnamed girl; as someone wise, someone worth seeking out, someone to sit beside quietly and listen to. We also see Billie through the unforgiving eyes of the girl’s mother, as a homeless person, someone to distrust, someone to avoid. It’s all a matter of perspective. Billie might seem to be someone worthy of pity; she is poor, old and homeless, but she is also independent; free. She rejects the entanglements of the material world, chooses for herself how she will live and how she will die.

In ‘Aerodynamics of Love’, the writer experiments with structure as she dissects and deconstructs a relationship with perfect detachment. The structure itself gives added meaning to the story. Each word is necessary. Believable. There is no need for embellishment.

‘Cicada Song’ reads like a list. This is a story of summer holidays by the beach, a story of childhood. The memories are specific yet there is much for the reader to relate to. These are happy memories tinged with sadness and loss. In childhood, feelings—happy, sad— are equal and depend on each other for context. In adulthood, memories are often the same.

In ‘The Sweetness of Musk’ we are plunged into Jake’s world; a small rural town gripped by drought, where everything is either dead or dying. Jake is a child not yet tall enough to see over the lolly counter; naive to the world beyond the boundaries of his town and the future that awaits him, yet in some ways he is old beyond his years and all too aware of what it means to be mortal.

The characters who inhabit these stories are broken; bowed by circumstance, steeped in sorrow. Thornton lays bare their secret lives, exposes what is usually kept hidden from public view. It is human nature to hide parts of ourselves; to wear a mask. Thornton’s characters are people caught at their most vulnerable, with their faces naked and their private lives on show.

You probably won’t laugh while reading these stories, but you may feel uncomfortable, and you will think. Through her choice of topic, Thornton’s collection explores what it is to be human – the doubt, the struggle, the simple joys, the pain.

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