Review | Thursday 01 September 2011
The subjects of Irma Gold’s debut collection of stories are in uncomfortable situations – there is no doubt about that – and whether they are taking proverbial steps forward is a matter for the reader’s perception. The strength of these stories is that they invite the reader into a range of environments – a nursing home where an elderly man values the companionship of another resident; a worker whose altruism descends into hopelessness in an immigration detention centre; the attempts to make everyday life special by an elderly homeless couple battling their addictions.
Gold’s storytelling ability is most evident in her longer pieces, which explore family relationships. In ‘Kicking Dirt’, adult sisters who are disconnected both emotionally and geographically try to bridge their differences. Both have separate perceptions of what happened years ago when their younger sister drowned in a local dam, and these beliefs and accusations lead to silences and recriminations. Gold also portrays adolescence well in ‘Sounds of Friendship’. Abby’s mother is adept at choosing the ‘wrong’ men, and in this instance they are living with Mick in a run-down caravan park. Abby escapes frequently to avoid seeing her mother emotionally and physically abused, and strikes up a friendship with Sid, whose aunt runs the park. The way Gold builds the relationship is expert – focussing both on Abby’s need for an ally in her constantly changing world, and her first romantic experience.
Probably the best story in the collection is ‘The Third Child’, about the impact of a miscarriage, not only on Susan who experiences it, but on her children. Both react to the loss of a potential sibling in a spontaneous yet different manner appropriate to their age and gender. These details make this story ring with truth, and it was the one I thought about most after finishing the collection.
Annie Condon is a short-story writer and a convenor of a Readings Australian Book Club
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