2016-001: Vertigo by Joanna Walsh
115 pages, 2015 by Dorothy, a publishing project
Purchased direct from the publisher
Like all books published by Dorothy, a publishing project, I purchased this one as soon as it was published. Unfortunately, like most of the books I buy these days, it sat around for half a year before I picked it up to read it. I originally intended to read a story or three, choose one, and post on the Work of the Day. However, a combination of sitting at a car service department for longer than I'd hoped for, and the fact that I couldn't stop turning pages, led me to read the entire collection of stories by Joanna Walsh.
The collections focuses more on women in domestic situations more than anything else. Walsh's language is incredible--there's a dreamlike quality lulling the reader into a sense of security while at the same time writing about urgent situations--a mother in a children's ward waiting for news on her daughter; a woman dealing with the fact that her husband has developed online relationships with other women; a mother on a bus ride with her daughter to what she knows re her disappointed parents. It's a very interesting combination of situational tension being calmed down by the way Walsh writes her sentences and puts her paragraphs together.
Part of this is done through her usage of the ordinary. In "Online," the story with the flirtatious husband, the wife asks "How is your breakfast?" and "What do you like for breakfast?" The sort of things you don't typically see in stories. The second question does lead to the interesting point that she believes she's at a disadvantage with the collective that is the group of women he talks to online. She believes that because they can ask questions like this, where she sounds ridiculous doing so as she KNOWS what he likes to eat makes them more interesting to him than she is.
In "Young Mothers" a story wherein the mothers see their existence ebb and flow strictly through their children. They are not known by their names but as "Connor's mum, or Casey's mum." Walsh slides lines like:
"Colors were bright, so our children did not lose us, so we could not lose each other, or ourselves, no matter how hard we tried."
after couplets like:
"Fleece was warm and stretchy for growing bodies. Shoes were flat for running, playing.
A couple of nice, simple sentences describing the outfits of the children in standard terms and then just a hammer blow of truly getting inside a mother's head.
The collection has fourteen stories that are linked, not by character, or setting, but by mood, by language and the very smooth mixing of urgent situations with calming language. It's unlike any other collection I've read and I look forward to future works by Joanna Walsh.