Vivien Jones lives in a small seaside
village in Solway Firth, Scotland. After the independent school she
worked at closed in 2000, she entered a Creative and Cultural Studies
program at the age of 52 and began writing for herself.
with Vivien Jones
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"She thinks she will rest
there for five minutes. The evening falls on her like a cool cloak. She
shuts her eyes. When she opens them again it is full night."
Reviewed Jason Makansi
Fat people, in particular fat women, come in many flavors and varieties. I suppose that is the underlying message of Perfect 10, even if the admonition on the book’s back flap, is to "examine our tendency to judge by appearances."
for that matter any "handicap," seems to me a difficult theme for
organizing a collection. How do you make it fresh and unique in every
story? How do you convince the reader that the travails of fat women
are any more worthy of the fictional stethoscope than the travails of
any other group struggling against the norms of the larger society?
Given the attention to obesity, indeed weight issues in general, in the
background hum of our lives (for example, every other television
infomercial has to do with women’s weight), what can a themed story
collection do for our collective consciousness? If these three
questions are the challenge, Perfect 10 doesn’t quite rise to the occasion.
other, minor, motif tying the stories together, which merely puzzled
me, is the appearance in every story (but one) of a male character,
Jimmy, who runs a potato-chip-making establishment. Jimmy the chippie,
as he’s known. For me, the connection was irrelevant. Who knows, maybe
chippies are revered in Scotland?
However, two of the stories in
this collection are worth your time and attention and neither would
have been the worse off if the female lead(s) were of normal weight,
whatever that means.
Dancing on Gravel
concerns what happens to a woman who leaves a bachelorette (for lack of
a better word) party and walks several miles to her home instead of
paying through the nose for a taxi. She’s dressed provocatively and
inappropriately for the short cut she decides to take, a hike along a
river trail in the town/city. It is daylight when she embarks and late
at night when she returns home. The story has a strong voice and, even
more refreshingly, paints an equally strong sense of place through that
voice. What happens to her walking alone is, in parts, predictable, but
each step of this short journey delivered a wince of empathy from this
reader and deeper insight into this woman. Her weight has nothing to do
with anything. But okay, I am a guy. Take that into consideration.
Weight does at least play a role in The Importance of Sisters
but I would argue an unimportant one, at least to my enjoyment of the
story. A woman who runs a dress-making shop fits a painfully shy,
overweight customer for a garment suitable for a wedding in the family.
The encounter causes the dress-maker to recall a painful episode years
ago involving a dress and her sister, who later took her own life. You
can’t help but be touched by how this story ends. All I will suggest is
this: You will feel good!
The other aspect of this story I
loved, and this may be my own peculiarity, is that it has a definite
and visible inflection point. As she is fitting the dress to this shy,
"Mildred was aware of an odour but it was not
chemical, not stale perfume or sweat but something that spoke of sorrow
and need, that pricked Mildred with a memory of Jane [her sister] in
her loathed velvet dress." This passage is where the two main
threads of the story begin to weave together, causing the story to
change direction. Maybe I’m being too analytical but I loved that I
could sense this on first read. It expertly presaged the ending without
giving it away, or making it expected.
is neither, perfect or ten (there are fourteen stories in here). And
even if you go with the more colloquial meaning of "perfect 10", well,
some of these characters really do rate in the lower end of those
digits. But I believe Dancing on Gravel and The Importance of Sisters will make you feel genuine affection for these characters and this writer.
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