A debut collection of short stories speaks of love, vulnerability, and salvation.
Ten tales are offered here, each geographically tied to Wales. The first and longest, “Marged Evans,” tells of the eponymous heroine, a reclusive archivist set in her ways. Her life changes when she receives an unexpected Christmas card, which leads to a chain of events whereby she begins to reconnect with the world. To mirror her protagonist’s fastidiousness, the author delves regularly into overly scrupulous details, which prove engaging when describing street life but less so when dealing with the mundanities of central heating: “Even the heating of the house was kept at the minimum; central heating had been installed during the seventies, and the boiler, although old, was still functional.” The result is a turgid narrative that needs a ruthless edit. Subsequent stories suffer from the opposite problem: they are too short, underdeveloped, and have weak storylines. “Blue Skies” tells of a student taking her first trip overseas but lacks substance; “The Raindrop” imagines a community in the Western world faced with drought but reveals little other than attitudes change without water; and “The Cottage on the Hill: A Monologue” presents a heavily diluted rebuke of the rat race. Where Fletcher-Edwards truly comes into her own is in “Oi, you!,” the story of a child abused by his parents. To make the reader feel as small and vulnerable as this boy requires masterful skill: “His lifetime of crouching, of holding his pockmarked knees to his quivering chin, had left an indelible stain against the age-old wallpaper—the only thing that had seemed to give solace and refuge from the constant pain.” This is a disturbing, heartfelt, brilliant piece of writing that suggests a gifted author striving for consistency. Tales such as “The Annual Outing,” which features an artist setting up an easel on a headland and watching holidaymakers on the beach, reinforce this notion. The author’s observational skills are excellent here, yet the piece reads like a fragment rather than a complete story: “The colour of the shoreline mellowed from dark yellow, where the waves broke, to a golden hue, where the sun had dried the sand.” While readers with a love of Wales may connect with this book, others will likely lose patience with the collection’s imbalance.
While showing signs of a burgeoning talent, these Welsh tales lack consistency.