TEXT review


On the road to excellence

review by Victoria Reeve

 

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Goldie Goldbloom
You Lose These + Other Stories
Freemantle Press, Perth 2011
ISBN 9781921696879
Pb 237pp AUD27.95

 

Goldie Goldbloom’s You Lose These + Other Stories is a collection of eighteen thematically linked short narratives. What unites them is difficult to describe; there is a clear sense of wonder and engagement with the strange and confronting aspects of life. Trauma is always relevant to these stories; sometimes the trauma is clearly defined; rarely, if ever, does it take centre stage. Rather, the focus is on the individual protagonists and the impact that restrictive social forces, denials, acts and threats of violence, and other forms of oppression have on their emotional lives. The collection might be said to explore the paradox of how it is possible to lose your way on the way to becoming who you are. These are individuals whose experiences have made them feel adrift and lacking in agency in some aspect of their lives. Elements of fantasy, absurd and unnatural phenomena, quaint depictions of everyday activities, strange acts of heroism, and immodest self-deprecation, provide levity to what might otherwise be harrowing tales. This levity bubbles up at times in joyous overtones that can be infectious. Sometimes the tone is just right; at other times it sounds forced, but every story has its charms and remains memorable long after reading.

The stories each have protagonists who are driven by motivations that do not conform to their social world. A strong sense of interiority (both in psychological and spatial terms) pervades as the closeness of community reveals itself to be a palpable and restraining force. Often these hardships are clear enough – the intolerance of non-normative sexual and social positions that cast the roles of wife, mother, and even child, in stifling terms – but there are equally nebulous constrictions of personality and the fear of choice, exerting their pressure on the protagonists.

One strong theme linking the majority of narratives in this collection is Judaism. This is interesting, given that these Jewish narratives are positioned within a wider thematic structure by the first story, ‘On the Road to Katherine’ and the last story, ‘If You Cut Off Her Head, a Horse Falls Out’, which references the Persian tale, One Thousand and One Nights. A tantalising link exists between these two stories. The main characters, Care, the child of the first story, and Madison, the adult in the last story, share sufficient similarities as to suggest they are related, perhaps mother and child. Both stories deal with violent childhoods and the terrorising of women by tyrannical men. Presenting the narratives in this way, sandwiched between two stories with disquieting connections, is provocative. The analogy with One Thousand and One Nights further informs the collection’s context: the stories of One Thousand and One Nights are themselves framed by the narrative of their narrator, Scheherazade, fighting for her life and for the lives of other girls and young women who would also be beheaded were she to fail in her quest. But rarely, if ever, have Scheherazade's efforts been so clearly positioned as a noble quest.

Ultimately, Scheherazade’s story is about violence and oppression and the wits needed to avert the death that awaits her. But whereas One Thousand and One Nights privileges the adventures of men overcoming adversity, Goldbloom’s stories stay with Scheherazade’s plight. ‘If you cut her Head off, a horse falls out’ evokes the enchanting adventures (of magical horses and the like) told by a woman living under the threat of decapitation. Goldbloom’s stories are equally beguiling, but don’t distract the reader from the tyrannical forces that motivate their narration. These are stories of women coming to terms with restrictive social codes imposed by religious fanaticism and entrenched cultural practice; of social patterns that permit abusive situations: ultimately, these are stories that explore the effect of tyrannical authority in its many forms.

Goldbloom’s versatility as a writer is apparent throughout the collection as she adopts different narrative voices, styles and structures by which to recount stories that, for the most part, are so fascinating and engrossing, the suspension of disbelief becomes immediate. I found the strong use of vernacular Australian speech in the opening story, ‘The Road to Katherine,’ initially grating because it seemed too pronounced for an opening narrative, but it bothered me less when I reread the story. Structural elements in ‘You Lose These: A Queer Ulysses’, along with the story’s subtitle, make clear its connection with Joyce. I felt the story to be at its finest and most impressive when it achieved independence from the novel it parodies. ‘This is What I Want; This is What I Don’t Want’ is beautiful and disturbing, but flawed in its assumption that, on the street, girls are more vulnerable to predators than boys. ‘The Decline and Fall of Drusilla Ann Gherkin’, a story of cruelty, is at times over-wrought and lacks subtlety, making the reader feel, not sympathy, but disbelief, even though the suffering is entirely believable. Likewise, I found ‘I Have Tasted Muskrat’ heavy-handed and literal. It failed to achieve what I presume to be its goal in light of Goldbloom’s otherwise artfully affecting stories. The strangeness dwindled and became claustrophobic because it mocked its protagonists unsympathetically.

In terms of the collection’s many strengths, ‘Tandem Ride’ possesses a gentle authenticity conducive to a fully immersive reading experience. It narrates the experience of an adolescent girl being groomed for exploitation. There is something profoundly affecting in this story. The impact on adult life of an adolescent longing for filial love is persuasively drawn. ‘What She Saw in the Crystal Ball’ is an elegant, beautiful, if painful, story of late-life pregnancy and its accompanying fears, joys, and hopes of loss; and ‘Raw Milk’ is an interesting story about the boundaries of sophistication and difference existing between rural and city life. ‘C.H.A.R.M.I.N.G’ is probably the most beguiling of the stories in the collection; thoroughly engaging, touching and eloquent. ‘Undesirable’ is a fascinating story that works, like the others, because it provides recognisable forms of suffering and human emotion in circumstances that lend an aura of otherness.

Overall, I found You Lose These to be an entrancing read. As a work of literature, it utilises a diverse range of formal strategies to defamiliarise the everyday – genre, voice, narrative structure and point of view are all deftly manipulated to create the qualities that make it so interesting and enjoyable. Every story must be read to its conclusion. These are compelling narratives. Highly recommended.

 

 

Victoria Reeve teaches literary and cultural studies at The University of Melbourne.

 

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TEXT
Vol 17 No 1 April 2013
http://www.textjournal.com.au
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy & Enza Gandolfo
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