REVIEW by Éadaoín Lynch NWR Issue 107
by Georgia Carys Williams
The epigraph of Williams’ debut short story collection, taken from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1935 autobiography, states: ‘Death? Why this fuss about death? Use your imagination, try to visualize a word without
death!… Death is the essential condition to life, not an evil.’ This establishes a strong thematic recurrence in Second-Hand Rain
– the search for alternative approaches to familiar struggles.
Throughout these sixteen short stories, Williams favours first-person narratives, personification, and delayed reveals, and continually constructs motifs of isolation, illness, motherhood, family, mental health, grief, and the natural world, but always from points of view which challenge the reader. For instance, in the opening story, ‘Beautifully Greek’, Williams writes from the point of view of a false pregnancy – pseudocyesis – and its subsequent effect on mother and father. The grieving mother continues living in a state of denial, while the distressed father attempts to shake her out of oblivion. This emphasis on family, motherhood, and loss, is consistently evoked throughout the subsequent stories, ‘Pushing Bubbles’ – a moving description of a woman’s mental ill-health and her daughter’s coping mechanism – ‘Searching for the Fog’ – an eerie tale of a wife’s struggle with depression after the death of her son – and ‘Turnstones’ – the unusual account of a group of birds in Swansea Bay who lose their mother after a human body washes up from the sea.
‘Turnstones’ won Williams a Terry Hetherington Award in 2014, bringing her once again into the anthology of young Welsh writers, Cheval
. Her pride in, and appreciation of, Wales also led her to compose the story, ‘Swansea Malady’, a beautifully written ode to her home town, which was commissioned by the Rhys Davies Trust to contribute to the Wales Arts Review’s Fiction Map of Wales
. ‘Swansea Malady’, a poignant observation of the vibrant culture of the Gower peninsula – encapsulating laverbread, the ruined castle, Mumbles pier, and ghosts of the February 1941 Blitz – abounds in crisp, precise descriptions of Swansea Bay and its rich history.
Williams pushes the geographical boundaries of her work, as she moves beyond Wales to Venice in ‘Lady Venetia’, a fictional imagining of a mermaid’s sacrifice to save a gondolier, and her revenge on the doctors who attempt to restrain her. Williams’ sumptuous detail is not only reserved for the bright and beautiful in her stories:
Martino quickly stood up to splash her with water, but as his pelvis twisted to the side of the bed, it peeled away a layer of the merwoman’s tail as easily as apple skin, exposing the raw scales underneath. Her body didn’t flinch, the rest of her tail already crisped up like cooked mackerel upon the bed sheets.
This concern with confinement and damage re-emerges in ‘Lyrebird Lament’, the tale of a ground-dwelling bird of paradise in Australia whose habitat is destroyed, culminating in a melancholy reflection on individuality and captivity, after its removal to the Adelaide Zoo.
In all these stories, Williams’ explorations of home, illness, and death, signify an unbroken preoccupation with identity and dependency. The recurring figure of a significant female presence in her stories, usually one evoking ambivalent feelings, also highlights questions of maternity and detachment, as indicated in the touching story of a grieving granddaughter in ‘Tangerines’: ‘Illness smells like rubber, or bad breath when you have a cold.… “Already on my way out,” Nan said when she was first moved… I didn’t understand what was funny because she never really goes anywhere.’
Inevitably there are stylistic flaws characteristic of a first collection, but, as Williams states in an interview with the South Wales Evening Post
, ‘the collection’s intention is to be honest about the various psychologies of reality,’ and it achieves this aim with remarkable sincerity and imagination.
writes for New Welsh Review
and blogs here
previous review: Letters from Portugal & Black and Blue
next review: The Three Lives of Dylan Thomas