Deleted Scenes for Lovers by Tracey Slaughter.
Wellington: VUP (2016).
RRP: $30. Pb, 224pp.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Coleman.
Deleted Scenes for Lovers is Tracey Slaughter’s first book. She has received numerous writing awards, most recently including the international Bridport Prize in 2014 and the 2015 Landfall Essay Competition. She is the online literary journal editor for Mayhem.
The cover of Deleted Scenes for Lovers gives us a clue: a garish plastic toy car sits on a rough verge and a smart new perfectly garaged car is on the opposite side of the road in the background. Like happy-ever-after, the car is for many way out of reach; life can be in-your-face, unlovely, raw, and Slaughter depicts the rough verge, the deleted scenes romantics prefer to ignore. This is no People’s Friend collection.
The subject matter of Slaughter’s stories is often grim, situations are worrying or dire, yet her writing has a magnetism which is dynamic, lyrical and emotional. All our senses are involved – we hear, see, smell, taste and touch – we are placed, we connect, and mostly we gulp rich descriptions and wonderful storytelling.
In “note left on a window” we read: ‘Out to sea the light was so thick it looked like someone had spilled sand along the horizon, and a triangle of shimmers too painful to focus on poured down’ (p 21).
‘Perhaps when he came here he did not drive the distance head on, fixed on his suicide, but only felt the suggestion of death wavering along the outskirts of the strange road, a wayside of hazy possibilities, hissing as lightly as the fence-line crosses or the ferns’ (p 23).
In “go home, stay home” we are at a party, the narrator is stoned and lying on his back in a paddock, he wonders: ‘What the fuck is it with him tonight? It’s the farmhouse feel of the place – might be a lifestyle block, but it still gave off that cabbage-tree, offal-pit, flannelette feel, still had the sound of windblown fence wire you could taste, that chilled tin tone that hummed along your childhood teeth. And the dark was the real dark, the dark of the farm he grew up on, homekill freezer-lid dark, that strung-up meaty blackness he’d always held his kid-breath to get through, praying that he never felt the veiny punch-bag knock, the fatty kiss as he shivered past the creaking sides of meat’ (p 56).
In “deleted scenes for lovers”, the title story, we are in the children’s bedrooms: ‘The children have beautiful torsos, pearly blue in the last hour of moon when she checks them. They have fistfuls of blanket in the silk of their grip and the rooms smell sour, angelic with the murk of their skin’ (p 31).
Each potent story benefits from time. Try not to gobble. Taste and enjoy, despite being hungry for more because they are so gripping, so good. Each one leaves us with questions about behaviour, perceptions, social mores and life in general. What will happen? What can we do about this? Why did it happen? Things go round our minds whilst we read and for ages afterwards. They are gifts that keep giving! And, confronting. There are comic moments as well.
Isolation is a predominant theme: through separation, violence, poverty, ignorance, disenchantment, depression and the real hard graft of living. Being a lover might not always be a meal-ticket to happiness but it is excellent material for Slaughter.
Again, in “go home, stay home” we watch through predatory eyes: ‘…she seemed to be drifting the party, trembling with the load of a tiny, over-wrapped kid, not catching anybody’s notice or managing to fit herself into any conversation. She hovered alongside groups, giving wan little grins as if she was joining in, shifting the burden of the baby with shivers that gave away how she was feeling, a kind of loneliness transmitted through her thin grip…’ (p 45). Quite a few of this writer’s characters have a thin grip on things.
Tut-tutters can leave this collection to those who relish the art of the accomplished short story writer. It is a remarkable book.
Elizabeth Coleman lives in Waikanae and has a strong interest in the poetry scene on the Kapiti Coast. She has been published in journals and magazines such as 4th Floor, takahē; in anthologies including Dear to Me, Swings & Roundabouts; has participated in performance poetry entitled Eyes in the Skies and has judged competition poetry.
First published takahe 87