Cross-posted at 3008Docklands
Dark clouds, harsh winds and the threat of hurricanes blow throughout Janette Turner Hospital’s exquisitely crafted collection of short stories, saturating the slim volume with an unsettling sense of dread. Forecast: Turbulence brings together a compelling cast of characters, each somehow floundering in an uncertain world. Some stories are gentle and elegiac; others are intense to the point of horror. Each one demonstrates Hospital’s incredible mastery of storytelling, creating richly complex worlds that pull the reader right into their centre.
In the opening story, Blind Date, we are introduced to Lachlan, a young boy hovering in the background of preparations for his sister’s wedding, wondering if his estranged father will appear. Lachlan is blind, but he can tell light from dark and reads the footsteps and vibrations of movement of the people around him, and in his mind he vividly recalls the soapy scent of his father’s freshly laundered shirt and his parting words: “I’m drowning, mate, and I just can’t breathe.” The drowning metaphor is then deftly woven into the following story, where a skipper of a whale-watching boat, who hasn’t spoken since his mother was killed by sharks, ruminates on stories of American World War II servicemen also killed at sea.
We also meet a lonely man obsessed with his beautiful neighbour, two sisters whose world is turned upside down when their father is publically exposed as a paedophile, and a couple whose child is kidnapped from his pram outside a bakery. The vulnerability of children is a common thread throughout the collection, sometimes taking us to deeply disturbing places. In Weather Maps, two young girls meet in the waiting room of the prison where they are both forced to visit their abusive stepfathers. In the bathroom, they compare scars, cuts and bruises, both agreeing that “it’s better when you do it to yourself.”
And yet, there are lighter moments to balance out the dark undercurrents. At the centre of the collection is Hurricane Season, a story about a young boy and his grandmother waiting for a hurricane to descend on South Carolina. Here, the rough weather is seen as something beautiful and thrilling, despite the danger it presents. The boy dreams of pirates; his grandmother hears the voice of an old lover in the wind.
Hospital’s carefully constructed narratives achieve what the all the best short stories should – presenting a sliver of a world that is intriguing and real, all within a tightly contained space. With its masterful pacing, rich variety of characters and a trove of moments that will linger in your mind, Forecast: Turbulence confirms Hospital’s place as one of Australia’s best contemporary fiction writers.