Reviewed by Jason Makansi
Although the author describes these stories as about “old age and the elderly,” I would modify that somewhat and say they are about how the observers (often the narrators) of the elderly respond to the old age of others. Every one of these stories has a subdued, restrained quality. That makes for a consistent collection from which you can draw a conclusion. The author’s style itself mirrors perhaps the physical and mental attributes of old age—reflective, contemplative, measured pace, impaired. I am going to assume this was intentional, if perhaps subconscious, and therefore achieved brilliantly. Taken en masse, this reader certainly gets a picture of how the author views old age and the elderly, sympathetic to the point of protective.
But the conclusion I draw from these stories is that old age is a sea of gray. I find it difficult to distinguish among the characters and discern the diversity and kaleidoscope that old age and the elderly certainly are. None of these characters seem much like the old folks I know and love, or even those I know tangentially. Too, these are not “active” stories to say the least, and therefore need other driving forces—characters, big ideas, sense of place.
A passage almost at the end of the the title story, Cello, illustrates the clarity and passion Ms. Thimann can achieve in her prose:
Being a stringed instrument player myself (viola), I wanted the entire collection to fill the concert hall of my mind in the same way. Perhaps that is also why, for the life of me, I don’t why that is the second to last sentence of the story. What an elegant closer! Cello paints an ethereal picture. Time is fractured. Music is the frame holding the subject together.
When she brings her musical background and training to the fore, Ms Thimann is at her best. The story preceding Cello, His Story, lacks the poetry and words dropping like petals off a flower that lace Ms. Thimann’s other stories in this collection. It reads more like an essay on participating in a writers group or a protracted diary entry. For example, after the italicized prelude, the introductory sentence is, “I think there are often one or two people in a group who do not speak a great deal.” I think many readers would agree that this isn’t riveting fiction. This story also seems to have little, if anything, to do with old age.
Along with Cello, Shells also rose up to the top of the list from the collection for me, mostly because of this intriguing observation: “…Like many big men, he felt drawn to things that were small, exquisite: opposite.” I found this observation akin to a stereotype, but gave it the benefit of the doubt. In the next paragraph this “big man” is fondling a few small shells, and this image helps drive this reader on into the story about the remodeling of a house by a man separated from his wife struggling to take care of his boys, one with a severe disability. Nothing much happens in the story, except that you feel your heart breaking at the end. This is where Ms. Thimann’s ambiguity and restraint end up packing a punch at the end.
Most of the other stories, though they have their moments of inspiration, do not move me in the way I believe the author wished. I sense that I, the reader, am observing the observer, and not being allowed in to the realm of these characters, as if they need to be insulated from the world. The foreward states that “I feel that old people in modern fiction and in the media get a raw deal.” If the intention is to dispel the lassitude of old age and the elderly, I wonder if the author, with the critical exceptions of Cello and Shells, needs to reveal more and protect less?
Read an extract from Cello on Pewter Rose Press.com.
Publisher: Pewter Rose Press
Publication Date: 2008
First collection?: Yes
Author bio: Frances Thimann recently graduated with an MA in creative writing from Nottingham Trent University in the UK. Her stories have appeared in, or were accepted by, Mezzanine and other Storeys, Lanterns, Staple, 3D New Fiction and Poetry. She began her career in music.
Read an interview with Frances Thimann
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