Saturday, March 5

All Together Now - Monica McInerney

This collection of short fiction covers a range of topics but has several universal themes, chief of which is female relationships; this is unsurprising, as these connections also form the mainstay of McInerney's novels. There are also varyingly successful attempts to twist the tale in the last paragraph or two. In the introduction she briefly discusses the origins of each story, where her observations of events around her sparked creatively.
"Hippy Hippy Shake" is the shortest piece, at just over three pages; it describes a brief interaction between adult sisters, one of whom is going through yet another phase. The twist ending wasn't quite as dramatic as I suspect the author intended but it was fairly effective and a nice introduction to the collection.
Sisters also appear in "Spellbound" - Jill's attempts to bolster Lucy's spirits after yet another bad date pay off unexpectedly after she finds an old love spell int he bottom of a trunk: could magic be real?

In "Just Desserts" caterer Libby has rebuilt her career in Melbourne, after being betrayed by her business partner. When the opportunity for payback unexpectedly appears, Libby takes the higher ground; her younger sister Sasha, however, feels less constrained.
"Sweet Charity" revisits eccentric Lola; the interfering and well-meaning grandmother from The Alphabet Sisters sees the chance to turn the tables on a careless, self-important teenage boy more interested in being the centre of attention than in the feelings of those around him.
"The Long Way Home" tells the story of Shelley, who decided that the best way to recover from a secret tragedy and the end of her marriage was to join and 18-35 European tour group; the respite from her life gives her opportunity for reflection, and a chance encounter at an Edinburgh shopping centre helps her realise what's important.
"The Role Model" is the only non-family-centred story in the collection, and also the second-longest; it opens with four old friends who are relatively happy with their country town lives but tired of their frequent, fruitless attempts to lose weight. When the arrival of a new doctor and his much younger, very glamorous wife coincide with a new weight loss method the four women discover a very uncomfortable kind of success, that comes at a price too high for all of them to keep paying.
Jeannie took up cleaning to pay her way through school; she never expected that working for sisters Kate and Amanda would bring up issues so relevant to her own life, where family disharmony had also been the result of "Wedding Fever."
"Odd One Out" is a novella, previously published as a stand alone title and reviewed
The collection is light, though it deals with topics as serious as humiliation, judgment, death, divorce, and self-discovery. Though this is good if the aim is holiday reading, I felt as though the two most weighty contributions ("The Long Way Home" and "The Role Model") fell a little short of their potential. In the first I didn't connect with Shelley, which is always difficult in a story this short any way, and so her situation didn't resonate deeply enough with me to feel a connection with her; in the second both the diet instructors' approach and the total lack of empathy of the friends for someone outside their circle distanced me from the narrative, even though I recognised that was supposed to be the point. I was very pleased to revisit Sylvie Devereaux by rereading "Odd One Out" and quite look forward to reading more of McInerney's novels, which I think are stronger than her shorter fiction. - Alex

No comments: