Monday 26 January 2015

The challenge – 13 short stories in 13 days – No. 5 and 6

The American Lover


Rose Tremain

Story 5 – A View of lake Superior in the Fall

Wow this woman can write. Her stories raise emotions in me! Disappointment and loss figure once more in this story, but their is also redemptive moments and some tender affect in the aspects of the love story between recently retired couple, Walter and Lena Parker.

Having an “On Golden Pond” moment Walter and Lena escape their Nashville home, the southern heat and hole up in a Canadian cabin through the summer and winter, intending to stay forever, what ever that ends up meaning. They buy a boat, build a jetty, install a wood burner and settle into their new life, their escape from their wayward, at sea, daughter who has returned to the family home to try and make it in the music business at the Grand Old Oprey. Her attempts to do this have only resulted in troupes of rowdy artists invading Walter and Lena’s home, drinking, smoking pot, feasting on and emptying their refrigerator and vomiting in the corners of the room. Finding their supposedly unconditional parental love for their child tested beyond their endurance by their daughter’s behaviour and their disappointment for her underachievement, her never finishing anything, never seeing anything through – be it her music and hope of being a singer, be it her lesbian love affair and the hope of being a mother, or her hopes  of becoming a novelist or management consultant or marrying a famous conductor. Walter and Lena run away. They find solace in the beauty and solitude of their wilderness cabin.

I won’t give away the ending, but it is an emotionally charged one to which Tremain builds ever so gently, ever so subtly, turning on its head the more usual child-running-away storyline, turning a summer hideaway into a year round sanctuary. This is a beautiful story of mature love, exile, and of the devastating impact of an overbearing family member.

Story 6 – Man in the Water

Of the six stories so far, the second, forth and sixth stories have been shorter and just like Story 2 Captive, this story ends abruptly. perhaps not where many readers, or writers would have ended it, but at a point where the future or a more traditional ending, although partially apparent is not defined.

The voice of this story is that of an unnamed fisherman, owner of the boat the Mary Jane, who fishes off the eastern seaboard out of Yarmouth. Tremain credits Norwich School painter Joseph Stannard (1797-1830) painting “ Yarmouth Beach and Jetty” as the source of her inspiration for this story.

Our fisherman is a widower, with two very different children  - a boy  who is bored at school, thirsty for adventure and all things bloodthirsty and an older girl who has taken up his late wife’s role as housekeeper. He is aware of his daughter staring out their window in a dream like fashion, but is less aware of the issues with his son. The story tells of his attempts to understand the girl, his fears of loosing her to another man and another life whilst trying to prepare himself for that happening by trying to learn the housewifery tasks he will require to keep him and his son fed and well turned out when his daughter marries. But is he correct in his interpretations of her state of reverie he observed when she is ironing or baking? We never know, except that in the end we believe the daughter is truthful when he asks about her feelings for a potential suitor just as she was the day she saw a man drowning in the sea even though the fisherman could not find him when he took his boat out on a vicious tide to look. Yes the fisherman can read the tides, but is less able to read people.

ashramblings verdict – I know Tremain lives fairly locally to me, near Norwich in the UK, but when she does write about other locations I do find them realistic and am immediately transposed there, be it the Canadian lakeshore of Story 5 or the Russian countryside of Story 3.

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