LEAV­ING THE COM­FORT ZONE

Ian Kennedy Wil­liams Gin­nin­derra Press, $33

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - Between The Lines - ROBERT COX

In his fourth short-story col­lec­tion, Launce­s­ton writer Ian Kennedy Wil­liams uses the mal­leabil­ity of the form to good ad­van­tage.

Although most of the 11 sto­ries in this aptly ti­tled vol­ume share a gritty noir re­al­ity, the au­thor’s imag­i­na­tion frees him from what­ever re­stric­tions that might ap­pear to im­pose.

He writes with­out ar­ti­fice, in prose that is lean and to the point and de­void of lit­er­ary flour­ishes and furbe­lows, and he tai­lors it to fit the tone and sub­ject of each story.

Wil­liams knows char­ac­ter is what drives good sto­ries and is a dab hand at cre­at­ing mem­o­rable ones to fit his of­ten un­usual fic­tive ideas. Con­sider A Fire Starter Speaks of His

Love, the chill­ing self-por­trait of an ar­son­ist as he glee­fully watches a woman’s house burn. More so­lil­o­quy than story, it breaks one of the con­ven­tions of the form, master sto­ry­teller Ge­off Dean’s dic­tum that “some­thing must hap­pen”, for noth­ing does – at least in terms of ac­tion. Yet as a de­pic­tion of a warped in­di­vid­ual, it is per­fect.

“Con­fla­gra­tion … de­fla­gra­tion … phlegethon … You know th­ese words from Pop’s the­saurus,” he writes. “So many words, you never knew half of them ex­isted. When no one’s around, you sing some of them out loud, like it’s a poem you’re read­ing. “Fiery … fla­grant … ig­nes­cent … piceous … “Em­blaze … in­cin­er­ate … cre­mate … “Some don’t sound like fire words at all, but you sing them all the same. “Cal­ci­nate … cau­terise … self-im­mo­late …” As he watches a fire crew’s ef­forts to save the house and a po­lice­man strug­gling to re­strain the woman, the nar­ra­tor muses: “It’s just a big game, sport­ing with na­ture, Pop says. Af­ter Oc­to­ber till the au­tumn rains come, it’s the only game to play.”

Wil­liams’ un­der­stand­ing of mor­bid psy­chol­ogy peaks in his cre­ation of Franz, the nar­ra­tor of the long story Real Es­tate.

Franz boards with young mar­ried cou­ple Trent and Jodi. They be­come firm friends un­til Trent in­ex­pli­ca­bly or­ders Franz to pack up and leave. He does but con­tin­ues to com­mu­ni­cate with Jodi, and even­tu­ally again with Trent.

By the time com­mu­ni­ca­tions re­sume, the na­ture of the three-way re­la­tion­ship is as puz­zling as Franz’s mo­ti­va­tion for fos­ter­ing it. His re­newed in­ter­ac­tions with Trent and Jodi at first ap­pear in­nocu­ous, so much so that at times noth­ing seems to be hap­pen­ing to ad­vance the nar­ra­tive.

Only with the shock end­ing does the game Franz has been play­ing be­come clear. As the blurb suc­cinctly puts it, he has been “a so­ciopath walk­ing his vic­tims along their fault lines un­til they crack”. Wil­liams got the pace of this dark tale ab­so­lutely right.

He is never afraid to leave his com­fort zone, es­pe­cially that of genre and its ex­pec­ta­tions and con­straints.

The Si­cil­ian Boy is a de­tec­tive story and Ei­dolon a psy­cho-thriller in­volv­ing a mur­der, yet su­per­nat­u­ral el­e­ments make both of them any­thing but or­di­nary who­dunits.

On the other hand, Nin’s Fa­ther is as sim­ple and clas­sic as a story by the Ir­ish master Frank O’Con­nor, as is Traces – although with a slight leav­en­ing of noir un­ease. Afi­ciona­dos of Wil­liams’ last col­lec­tion,

Fugi­tive Places, will rel­ish this new op­por­tu­nity to fol­low the twists and turns of his vivid imag­i­na­tion.

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