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September 18, 2006 | by  | in Books |
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Small Hole In The Silence

The title of Grace’s latest collection of short stories gives a good indication of the tone, perspective and subject matter the book takes on. The phrase “small holes in the silence”, to me, suggests loneliness, introspection and attention to the small moments of abnormality that happen in every person’s life. In the opening story, the literal “holes in the silence” are the ringing of a widow’s telephone, which always stops before she has time to get back to the house. In a set of stories, woven throughout the book, an elderly woman sits on a park bench each day, watching people and hoping to find someone to talk to; the observations she chooses to share, due to their slightly unusual nature, are her “holes” in an otherwise silent life.

If you have an aversion to reading about old women, do not dismiss this book altogether – myths, such as Rona and the moon, in which the moon punishes a woman who insults her, are freshly retold, in a way that lets them resonate alongside the counterparts. Contemporary stories are told with a deceptive simplicity and clarity, which gives them the weight of myth. For example, in five pages, a Maori woman with a BA in English Lit is going to buy a burger from the Manners Street McDonald’s when she sees a young cousin getting into trouble with the cops; she goes over to help him and ends up unconscious in the gutter, interrogated by police. More surreal: a young sister tells of her brother who has taught himself to become invisible at will – she is convinced that he’s turned himself into the koruru on top of the meeting house.

At their best, these stories have the clean, lyricism of poetry combined with a plot as deeply satisfying as myths. At their worst, they have a minor imbalance of focus. For example, ‘To Russia with Love’, whichjuggles several points of interest, left me unsure of what the story was attempting to do. However, this is not a major criticism; it does not ruin what is, I think, a coherent, calm and soulful collection of stories.

PATRICIA GRACE
Penguin, $35.00

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