Black Juice, by Margo Lanagan

 

books

 

 

 

This is a short story collection, one of five by Margo. I read the e-book version from Amazon

These passages are from the first story in Black Juice, singing my sister down. The sentences are plump with meaning and expression in a subtle and beautiful and intriguing style. This particular story will also break your heart. Love it, can’t wait to delve into more.

 

And Mumma was talking, wearily, as if she’d been going on a long time, and soothingly, which was like a beautiful guide-rope out of my sickness, which my brain was following hand over hand.

 

The style has a biblical tone with the repetition of the word ‘And’ at the beginning of many sentences, and also the repetition of sentences – which I love, but avoid doing myself for fear of being criticized for it.

 

–and into my Mumma, whose arms were ready. She couldn’t’ve carried me out on the tar. We’d both have sunk, with me grown so big now. But here on the hard ground she took me up, too big as I was for it. And, too big as I was, I held myself onto her, crossing my feet around her back, my arms behind her neck. And she carried me like Jappity’s wife used to carry Jappity’s idiot son, and I felt just like that boy, as if the thoughts that were all right for everyone else weren’t coming now, and never would come, to me.

Crossing ethical lines: Midnight Blue and Endlessly Tall by Jane Jervis-Read

9781922057433

Midnight Blue and Endlessly Tall by Jane Jervis-Read

Xoum Publishing 2013

121 pages.

 

Jessica is a divorced and single health worker whose children have moved on with their lives, leaving her to negotiate her relationships from a distance and to grapple with a ‘hollow and sore heart’. When she becomes increasingly entangled in the life of her client her own needs allow her to go where logic might tell her she shouldn’t.

From the beginning we know we are in the hands of an author who cares about words and what lies between them. Jane Jervis-Read creates a haunting and wanting aura with her sensitive writing:

But she will already be walking out the back, screen door sighing closed behind her, slippers scuffing the concrete, spanning the distance between the kitchen and the shed. The corrugated roof casts a shadow over the entrance… But inside the shed a world awaits. From the window I watch the shadow drink her in. p2

When Jessica takes on the job as carer to Eloise we follow her tender path along a road that both she and we know she shouldn’t go down. It echoes the decisions we fail or neglect to make, or choose to ignore, that allow us to follow the heart in search of something we need. It puts the question to us that we may not like to explore, should we go to places we know we shouldn’t for the sake of cotton-balling the heart?

It meant something when Eloise pulled me in. It meant I am sad and the world is falling like leaves around me. It meant you are a warm heart next to me and your heart loves and listens where mine is hollow and sore and calling out like a wild, hungry mouth. It meant I need you…Something is starting and something is ending. I need relief from my sorrow and you are it, your hand is it, your warm heart beating beside me is it. p66

As we would in reality, Jessica questions her actions and explains them away with care:

She was crying with growing intensity. You don’t leave someone alone in that state. You don’t say, Sorry but my shift is over.’ You can’t clock off. This may be that sort of job to some people but not to me. p53

And Jervis-Read does not shy from bringing truth to the story by allowing Jessica go into this blindly. Jessica knows she goes where she should not; she knows she has blurred ethical lines:

Her thigh slid between mine. I waited. What was I thinking in this moment? I can’t remember. Only the feeling of heat, from her bath-thickened flesh…Maybe I told myself, ‘You have come this far without knowing why – what reason is there to step out now?’…How wild and misguided a life can become, but the body maintains this simple truth: the elegant curve from the waist to the hip. p 83

And nor are the characters allowed to waft away in romantic views; the story is not without the tendrils of uncertainty you might find in a relationship wrought with baggage, illness and dependency:

Eloise smirked. She leant towards me and her robe fell open at the top. ‘I’ll follow you,’ she said. ‘If you go.’  p 63

The characters are beautifully painted on the page. We feel for Jessica as she navigates the emotions left in the wake of her divorce from her husband, and the feelings of estrangement from her children that seem to open her up as they go on with their lives:

Was I a good mother to my children? I think I was. Why then did they move away? p67

And out of this we accept and forgive Jessica. Had we only had access to the facts of the story – lonely carer takes advantage of a patient overcome with sadness for the loss of her life due to mental illness, and engages in physical intimacy – we might judge and condemn Jessica. Enormous credit goes to Jane Jervis-Read for enveloping the facts in a beautiful story that leads us to understand and forgive the characters.

When Eloise sobbed that guttural sob I recognised my own voice in her throat. I recognised the sobs of my children, of my mother too. I remembered my mother weeping when my father died and how I had held her. Eloise clutched at me and pulled me in through the blankets. She cried in my arm. p53

Midnight Blue and Endlessly Tall is a beautifully written, honest and elegant tale of longing and loneliness; it turns the light on what a person will allow themselves to do to abate and caress those feelings and it tackles the questions around crossing ethical lines. Set in the university area around Carlton, Melbourne. I highly recommend you take on this novella and see how you fare.

Jane Jervis-Read and Alice Grundy from Seizure talk about her novel and novellas in general in a great audio interview here

You can purchase Jane’s book here.

Whatever I got up to yesterday has given me a boil on my ass- MONEY, Martin Amis

This is another one of the quick-reads-to-get-in-the-right-frame-of-mind-before-I-start-writing quotes. The manuscript I’m working on is more upbeat than my last book so a bit of MONEY by Martin Amis is just the thing to get my mind ticking. I opened the book and this is what I read. It’s a great read, and so funny, but if you can ignore the words (almost impossible) and look at the rhythm, the sing-song within the sentences, the short and long sentences, the stopping and starting, the rhyming (read it out loud there are plenty of rhymes) the repeating of phrases – it’s pretty poetic. To put it all together – the rollicking story, the humour,  and the poetic sounds,  is wonderful. You have to love it.

Whatever I got up to yesterday has given me a boil on my ass – and a big ‘un, too. I’ve had some boils on my ass before, but this mother has to be the daddy of them all. Boy, is this a big boil. I thought that these characters had gone out of my life along with circle-jerks and slipped octaves. Apparently not, apparently not. It must be the booze, it must be the junk, it must be all the pornography… I feel as though I’m sitting on a molten walnut or a goofball of critical plutonium. Amazing, even flattering, to think that the body still harbours this stinging volatility, these spiteful surface poisons. It fucking hurts too. If I turn my back on the uncensored mirror, touch my shins, and peer through my parted legs, like a scowling pornographic come-uppance, then I get a pretty good view, thanks, of this purple lulu scoring it’s bullseye on my left buttock. It really means business. It isn’t messing about…Lying down is okay. Walking hurts,standing hurts, sitting hurts. Abiding hurts. It must be the booze, it must be the junk, it must be all the pornography.

MONEY by Martin Amis (1984) This ed. Vintage 2005 pg 210

Passages Of Writing: The Spare Room by Helen Garner

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Book: The Spare Room, Helen Garner. First Pub 2008 – The Text Publishing Company.

Why: It’s so real, visceral. I felt like I was actually Helen caring for, getting angry at, and cleaning up after Nicola. Helen is brave, goes right to the truth of it and so crisply and clearly.

I’ve been thinking about the difference between fiction and non-fiction, not the actual difference, I mean in terms of writing style, and it’s occurred to me there does not have to be any difference. I’ve often had more success with my non-fiction than my fiction and after reading this I realise why: I’ve been wafting around the details in fiction. I need to get to the nit and grit of my characters and feel them, really see how the character sees and believe it, and throw some emotion at it.

I’m doing a final edit of my current book, and today went back to the start to make a real attempt to implement this, the crisp realness that comes with non-fiction, seeing, feeling and knowing, not pretending to know.

Peggy glanced at me. Horrified sympathy passed along her eye-beams. It weakened me. A huge wave of fatigue rinsed me from head to foot. I was afraid I would slide off the bench and measure my length among the cut roses. At the same time a chain of metallic thoughts went clanking through my mind, like the first dropping of an anchor. Death will not be denied. To try is grandiose. It drives madness into the soul. It leaches out virtue. It injects poison into friendship, and makes a mockery of love.

P88

What about the importance of the right adjective? Cut them out is often the advice, but when you do need them, should you go to the thesaurus for something unique, or should you wrangle common words into a lovely and intriguing formation? I don’t know.

She was an elegant, stick-thin woman pushing forty, in a narrow jacket and skirt that skimmed her wiry frame; her ankles and arches were so bony that she had to scuff her feet to keep her high-heeled sling-backs on. Her hair was springy as a pot scrubber, and her face was a darkly lit by a half-smile of ferocious irony.

P70

Passages of Writing: Point Omega by Don DeLillo


Book: Point Omega, Don DeLillo. Picador 2010.

Why: It’s intimate, kind, sad and quiet. The set up of this little piece is that these two men, who don’t really know each other that well, are waiting for something. Can’t say what in case you’d like to read it yourself. Suffice to say there is tension around them and this intimate moment is shrouded in sadness and kindness.

I stood behind him with a pair of scissors and a comb and told him it was time for a haircut.

He turned his head slightly, in inquiry, but I repositioned it and began to trim his sideburns. I talked as I worked. I talked in a kind of audiostream, combing and cutting through the tangled strands on one side of his head. I told him this was different from shaving. The day would come when he’d want to shave and he’d have to do it himself but the hair on his head was a question of morale, his and mine. I said many empty things that morning, matter-of-factly, half believing. I removed the wormy rubberband from the weave of braided hair at the back of his neck and tried to comb and trim. I kept skipping to other parts of the head. He spoke about Jessie’s mother, her face and her eyes, his admiration, voice trailing off, low and hoarse. I felt compelled to trim the hair in his ears, long white fibers curling out of the dark. I tried to unsnarl every inch of matted vegetation before I cut. He spoke about his sons. You don’t know this, he said. I have two sons from the first marriage. Their mother was a paleontologist. Then he said it again. Their mother was a paleontologist. He was remembering her, seeing her in the word. She loved this place and so did the boys. I did not, he said. But this changed over the years. He began to look forward to his time here, he said, and then the marriage broke up and the boys were young men and that was all he was able to say.

p 90.

Passages of Writing: The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates 1973-1982

 

 

 

Book: The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates 1973-1982 Harper Collins 2007

 

Why: It’s just a little reminder in a world of texting, Twitter, Facebook and all the rest to stop and breathe. Keeping busy does block out the ills of the world but you can feel it – when you forget to just be still, running with the pack day after day – the loss of self.

Creative impulse doesn’t only apply to Artists and Writers, it apples to living your life in the moment with family friends and your self.

 

January 19, 1973. Days of teaching; meeting with students; talking with colleagues. The irresistible pull of the external world. One could very easily lose oneself within it…”keeping busy” is the remedy for all ills in America. It’s also the means by which the creative impulse is destroyed.

p7

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