Reviewed by Sarah Hilary
There is a strong strand of surrealism running through this collection – a woman starts sprouting feathers, fake babies dictate the lives of a couple no longer in love, aliens lurk in dark corners and open skies – but don’t go looking for escapism in these pages. Solomon tells a weird tale but more often than not she does so to bring the reader face to face with a hard and, at times, dull reality.
Characters in search of escape do not fare well in these tales. In Alternative Medicine, two brothers seek different ways of avoiding the expectations of their parents and peers. Both fail, miserably. The titular hero of The Most Ordinary Man in the World glimpses a life free from his sister’s tyranny but the story ends as it begun, with the brother firmly under her thumb.
A little of this reality-checking goes a long way; I found myself longing for a story where the upshot, rather than the narrative device, was surrealism. The flat note at the end of several stories left me a little numbed. Space Invaders is an excellent example of how Solomon might deliver on this promise, weaving masterfully the twin threads of the everyday and the extraordinary. An amnesiac deserts his family to pursue his obsession with extraterrestrial life, and is found by his daughter living a bizarre existence in expectation of deliverance. Metaphor and moral co-exist in harmony, each complementing and strengthening the other.
The Queen of Gayndah is another example of the strength of Solomon’s grip on the human psyche: what drives us; what stops us. Solomon showing us everyday life seen through a fly’s eye lens. The Killing Jar, narrated by the adulterous father of a small boy, is frightening in its apparent domesticity. The small boy finds a spider and traps it in a jar. He tells his father that the spider has seen him with a woman who isn’t Mum. The spider then sees the adulterous pair making love in the bushes. So it goes on, with the spider in the unlikely role of go-between. Solomon’s skill is such that the story could be read simply as the son not wishing his father to know of his own spying expeditions. Or maybe, just maybe, the spider is a spy. We start to view the action from ground-level: arachnid-cam. Creepy, and crawly.
Piano Lessons/War Stories, by contrast, relies on the poignant subject matter of a grandfather damaged by his experience in the war. The story is coaxed out gently, told warmly and with charm. It made me wish for more stories in this style. Fewer insects, more insights. I look forward to Solomon’s second collection.
Read one of the stories from this collection in The Southern Ocean Review.
Publisher: Flame Books
Publication Date: 2008
First collection?: Yes
Author bio: Laura Solomon was born in New Zealand, where she has published two novels. Her second play, Sprout, based on a short story in the collection reviewed here, was part of the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Read an interview with Laura Solomon
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