Friday 31 May 2013

Book Review: Inherited by Amanda Curtin

A dancer in a wheelchair. A collector of corks. One woman seduced by a mountain and another by Freddo Frogs. A man who hears his dead wife's voice. A poet whose voice has disappeared. A photographer distilling grief in his lens. A sound designer stealing the sound of a room. 

Written by Amanda Curtin, these are stories concerned with the gifts and burdens we inherit from those we love and from the world at large, and what we, in turn, leave behind. Families, relationships, memory, secrets, memorialization, creativity, collecting, ageing, and obsession all weave themselves through these 19 short fictional gems.

I read Amanda Curtin's short story collection Inherited as part of the AWW2013 Challenge. Curtin is a remarkable writer and each story is infused with a deep sense of loss and melancholy. For that reason it was a hard book for me to read. The writing is excellent and the stories are engaging, but the heavy subject matter sometimes proved too exhausting for me. That's not altogether a bad thing of course; Curtin has gotten to the heart of her characters' stories and made me feel things. That's a successful piece of writing.

The collection is broken up into seven sections - keeping, wanting, surviving, remembering, breaking, leaving and returning. These sections provide a theme for the stories and gave me a deeper understanding of what Curtin was trying to say. There are memorable characters and quirky situations and each story has hidden meaning if the reader wants to dig a little deeper. The stories are about what matters most in life, of what we leave behind when we die, of the longing that can ruin us, of regrets and desires and choices, and questions that may never get answered. The stories are haunting and full of sad memories. And yet they are still beautiful.

I don't usually read short story collections because I find the snippets of self-contained prose do not hold my attention in the way a novel does. While Curtin's writing is certainly superb here, I wasn't as invested in each of the characters like I would be over the course of reading a novel. But that is to be expected when the reader is given a short burst of a character, a short moment of feeling and emotion before the story ends and an entirely new scenario follows on the next page.

Of course the beauty of the short story is that they require brevity, so this collection is perfect for time-starved readers. Inherited proves Curtin is a short story master and I definitely enjoyed reading her collection. But I was reminded that short stories just don't give me enough time and connection with the essential elements of character, setting, theme etc. Like many of Curtin's characters I was left wanting more, which in hindsight I see was probably Curtin's intention all along! That's the work of an exceptionally gifted writer.


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