Short stories from the celebrated—and newly popular—author of In Certain Circles (2014) and The Catherine Wheel (2015).
“Why do we do it?” The person posing this question is 18-year-old Del Shaw. She’s addressing her mother, and what she’s asking is this: why do the two of them acquiesce to the mercurial and dangerous Mr. Shaw? The problems contained in Del’s question may be, in their details, particular to the Shaw family, but the sort of homely terror the Shaw women endure will be familiar to anyone who has read Harrower’s novels. Decades after she retired from writing, Harrower is experiencing a revival in her native Australia and abroad, and this collection is a mixture of work published in the 1960s and ’70s and pieces from her archives. The short story, with its tight formal constraints, proves to be a fruitful medium for Harrower’s Gothic sensibilities. At the same time, she uses the short form to offer her imprisoned characters a glimpse of freedom—even if the cynical reader will recognize that the promise of escape is ironic. In “The Beautiful Climate,” Del imagines that a voyage abroad with her parents might be her liberation—never mind that the Shaw family carried their toxic home life along with them during their weekends at a seaside cottage. In “The Cost of Things,” a middle-aged man who feels trapped by his family makes an extramarital affair every bit as tedious as he is. But there are also some surprises. “Lance Harper, His Story” is close to being an extended joke. And the piece from which this collection takes its title is a meditation on despair in which a kind hostess, rather than a domineering husband or father, plays a supporting role.
Artful short-form fiction best for Harrower’s dedicated fans.