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Author: Tracey Slaughter
Publisher: Victoria University Press
Domestic, contemporary New Zealand is bleak and gritty in this collection of short stories from Tracey Slaughter. With a keen eye for detail, she observes and dissects places that we will all be able to recognise.
Consider the opening scene of the story “the next stop”: “There were maybe five vinyl chairs, or seven, to wait on between the counter and the corner. Orange, with black metal legs, and if you sat down on them you’d feel fish and chip grease suck up to your thighs… You wouldn’t want to even pick up those thin, oily mags, but you’d probably get desperate not to stare into space at some point.” Sound familiar?
These stories are not lovely. In “note left on a window” a young woman camps out in the ramshackle caravan where her boyfriend took his life. In “consent” a young girl is groomed and abused by an older man. “go home, stay home” observes the adult world of a house party, filled with sleazy men and desperate women. Throughout the collection lurks the problem of class—how we are restrained by it, how we cannot truly leave our pasts behind. Children are mingled in with these adult worlds, taken places they shouldn’t be. Slaughter is drawn to scenes of discontent, even misery, and reading more than one at a time is a hard slog. You’ll need to take a break, sit back, and let the quiet tragedy sink in.
It would be easy to feel depressed by these stories, as largely they deal with fraught relationships and the ways in which people can be ugly towards one another. That’s not to say, however, that they are not worth your time. These are the realities of ‘middling’ middle New Zealand, and while Slaughter does not hold back on the bleakness, there are moments of hopefulness and heart, too. Her command of language is impressive—it will leave these stories and characters seared into your memory.