27 May 2015

Review: The Way Out by Vicki Jarrett

The Way Out
Vicki Jarrett
Freight Books, 2015
Paperback, 159 pages

I'm grateful to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book.

The Way Out contains 22 of Jarrett's (sometimes very) short stories. There are many gems: they reminded me of those moments when a glimpse of sunlight brightens a dull day... or when the cloud suddenly darkens a sunny one.

Sometimes this is literal, as in the first story where a papergirl on a rainy, dreary morning gets an unexpectedly straightforward, sunny welcome. Then she's back to a depressing life - we don't know if the glimpse of sunshine will sustain her, but hope exists. In others it's more a mood: for example in Home Security 1 and Home Security 2, which form a whole, there's an unwanted presence in the house that darkens the mood of a young woman - then she plays the same part herself for another.

We see heedless husbands and mothers, missing that moment of clarity or joy in the life of a child (How Not to Get eaten by Tigers, Rubble). We see the moment as one of gentle or not so gentle triumph, as in White Pudding Supper or (my favourite), 10 Types of Mustard where a waitress communicates perfectly - but wordlessly - with the girlfriend of a boorish customer. And we see in in gentle friendship as in Bingo Wings.

There are desperate people here - predominantly women - suffering loss, bereavement or simply being ground down. There is as much darkness as light, but between the two, Jarrett illuminates the world in a jumpy, flickering sort of way, like one of those 19th century animated toys. It's a kind of view that gives intense focus to small details which then prove to contain the whole.

These are delicious stories, if not always easy reading.

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