Missing pieces in the puzzle of existence
Lucy Durneen’s Wild Gestures is a stunning collection of stories full of insight on the unconquerable spaces between people, the missed or never possible opportunities, the mistakes that couldn’t be otherwise, the yearning for things we can’t or shouldn’t have.
It’s about bearing the weight of it all, of the reaching and yearning and trying to hold and knowing we can’t.
But in this collection Durneen also captures those beautiful, blissful rare moments of sublimity, and also submission to the moment. This is the first book by Durneen, who is based in the southwest of England and met her Australian publisher, Anna Solding of Adelaide-based Midnight Sun, at a short-story conference in Vienna.
Though Durneen’s stories have been widely published in journals and magazines, and have won prizes, publishers remain conservative when it comes to collections. But this meeting between a British writer and small Australian publisher was fortuitous. Just the right fit.
The tones, settings, points of view and tenses in these stories are varied, but one commonality across them is the way they withhold, the way they switch the reader’s brain on, and then slowly reveal, but never too much. At the end of each there is still a sense of the mysterious, but it becomes a shared mystery between the characters and the reader. The stories are psychological experiences, not mere narratives.
In The Path of Least Resistance, the narrator arrives back at a shop with lunch and, on entering, feels like a stranger. Jim, whom we assume to be her partner, is selling a chair to a younger woman. We pause on the image of the woman, and through the narrator’s eyes the scene is psychologically unsettling and painful, especially since she has already established that she feels misplaced in a place she shouldn’t.
She notes of the young woman, ‘‘You could tell that she didn’t have anything pressing down on her from inside, nothing that showed on her face when she thought no-one was looking, the way a child thinks it’s invisible when it closes its eyes.’’ We glean that the narrator both admires and is threatened by the young woman.
They are introduced, and then there is tension between the narrator and her partner about feeding a dog, with the young woman caught up in it.
The way the couple speak to each other indicates more tension in their history. And then the focus is on the chair that is being sold, and through the chair the reader receives more insight, quick and subtle, into the history of the couple, and where blame may fall, and into the heartbreak and disappointment of the narrator. The last line shows us just how much had been hoped for in the relationship. There’s a puzzle, an unfurling, and then a more complex and beautiful puzzling, and the reader is invited to join in.
Besides this shared sense of mystery, another commonality between the stories is an urgency, and energy, in the writing. As though each character is pushing at something, or grasping or gathering, and then, in moments, there is a glimmer of either what they seek or something different and surprising. And this kind of rhythm results in some spectacularly insightful, poetic lines and passages.
In Everything Beautiful is Far Away a woman tries to comprehend her husband’s illness and his stay in hospital. After an exchange with the husband about shared memories she realises she had brought up an experience that was with a former lover, not him, and this is what she feels: