by Julia Bohanna
The female protagonists in
this collection are prisoners in multifarious ways: trapped by the
weight of marriage to errant/insensitive men, the burden of childcare,
an addiction or the limitations of a disabled body. Men may not emerge
from these stories commanding much respect but the women are drawn by a
wise, experienced and compassionate hand. Their flaws are exposed too
– characterization and voice are extremely strong elements
and each neat psychological portrait holds the reader powerfully. Women
on blocks, as one character tells us, refers to derelict cars in the
trailer parks of America, where frustrated and ultimately failed lives
go to die. Cars play quite a role in some of the stories, literal or
metaphorical – apt perhaps because of their ability to
facilitate escape or, in the case of one poor soul in Wild, Wild Horses,
to cause accidents that alter lives permanently.
One of the stand-out stories
for me is Mooncalf.
I had to put the book down afterwards and savour the resonance of the
tale, but also to grieve for the situation. A young woman with cerebral
palsy, assumed retarded for many years, eventually has a baby of her
own. The child is weak and does not thrive. The strain of taking care
of his wife and helping with a difficult, crying dependant, strains her
husband to breaking point. There is one particular scene – to
explain it would be to reveal too much – a disturbingly
claustrophobic evocation of exhaustion and the potential in all of us,
when pushed to our limitations.
a stripper caged by circumstance and the pull of her own animalistic
sexuality, faces perhaps another version of herself having made
different choices. Model
shows the desperation of a wife to please and the consequences of
finally facing herself, her perceived failings and inability to achieve
perfection. The story was almost a dark fairytale of an abandoned
princess tuned to a modern setting. Where there is sentiment it is used
to show intimacy or tenderness – but it is always balanced by
hard reality and consequences.
All the women in Blocks
could be said to reach an epiphany of sorts. Most interesting was how
Akers assisted her characters in reaching those revelations. Some were
dramatic but others quieter, such as in Multicoloured Tunneled
Life, with a dead pregnant
fish. The use of poetic language is never in lieu of plot, meaning or
dynamic prose. If I was to have one criticism, it would be that Akers
needs sometimes to trust the intelligence and sensitivity or her
readers and not to spell out her intent too overtly. The caged aspect
of these lives was vivid enough and she is a skilful enough writer to
convey her message, without telling us at times in semi-didactic terms.
had potential as a novel: a god-fearing traditionalist copes with new
hippy neighbours, during which time both parties have their beliefs
battered and compromised. I look forward to seeing more from this
Read a story
from this collection in Literary Potpourri
|A freelance writer and
journalist, Julia Bohanna was shortlisted this year for The Asham Award
and the Mslexia Short Story Competition. Publications include Mslexia,
The Lancet, The Sunday Telegraph and The Sunday Times and the Penguin
anthology, The Map of Me. She has also been placed or won several
UK-based magazine competitions and is Assistant Editor of Wolfprint,
a conservation magazine.
Publisher: Press 53
bio: Mary Akers writes
poetry, fiction and
non-fiction and has been published in many literary journals such as Fiddlehead
Literary review. She has also
worked as a potter, art teacher, historical interpreter and is also
co-founder of the Institute for Tropical Marine Ecology –
environmental conservation a great passion.
with Mary Akers
this book (used or
Publisher's Website: Press 53
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