Rules, they say, are made to be broken, and so it was that I broke my rule* of not accepting overseas publications for review and said yes to a short story anthology from Ireland, Love on the road 2015: Twelve more tales of love and travel. I’m not exactly sure, in fact, why an Irish publisher offered me this book for review. Perhaps it’s because I’ve reviewed a collection, Pelt and other stories, by expat Australian Catherine McNamara who is included in this anthology. Whatever the reason, it didn’t take me long to break my rule on this occasion because I love short stories, because it includes an Australian (woman) author and, perhaps most importantly, because it’s an international collection and so offered me a perfect opportunity to diversify my reading.
The collection opens with a brief Foreword by the husband-and-wife editors. They explain that this is the second Love on the road collection, the first published in 2013. The collections are the end-product of a contest in which the editors called for submission from authors around the world “to send us their tales of love and travel, true or imagined”. In this second volume, one is true, the rest are fiction, and they are set all over the world, from Iran to the Philippines, from Zimbabwe to Costa Rica, from New Zealand to the USA.
Eight of the twelve stories are by women, and one of these is the true story. Written in second person by New Zealand writer Nod Ghosh, “Janus: A path to the future” tells of her husband’s decision, after thirty years together, to transition to female and describes their trip to Belgium for the first surgical procedure in the transition, facial feminisation. It’s a warm story about a strong love that transcends gender. Several of the stories are health-related. Catherine McNamara’s story, “Enfolded”, is about a woman visiting a past lover at his request, after an accident has left him, wheel-chair bound, with paralysed legs. The language is tighter and more restrained than many of the stories I’ve read by McNamara, but it perfectly matches the tension between the couple’s playful, no-strings-attached past and what future, if any, they might forge.
American writer Marlene Olin’s “Sunrise over Sausalito” is also health related, but its tone is upbeat. Indeed there’s a lovely variety in tone in this collection, which is something I like in anthologies. Anyhow, in this story an elderly widower has checked himself into a nursing home. He figures that since he’d checked himself in, he can also check himself out, which he does in a very special way (and no, I don’t mean by the usual way people check out of nursing homes!) It’s a warm, engaging story about how it’s never too late to fulfil your dreams.
Not all the stories are about positive relationships, though. American writer Shirley Fengenson’s “Not a finger more”, set mostly in Costa Rica, is a chilling first person story in which a wife describes her life with a physically abusing, emotionally controlling husband. Fergenson handles her first person narrator with confidence and compassion – and makes it all too real.
The four stories I’ve mentioned demonstrate the diverse ways in which the writers interpreted the theme, but it doesn’t stop there. And here’s the thing. Given the theme, I wasn’t really expecting the degree to which political issues would feature in the collection. It started with the first story, “The queue”, by Zimbabwean novelist Tendai Huchu. It was rather strange to be reading this story as we were hearing about Greek people queuing at ATM machines during their current crisis, because this story is about people lining up at the post office for their monthly pay cheques, though they need first to make sure that they are in the right queue – not the bread one, for example. It’s a story about attitude: are you or are you not able to make the best of a frustrating situation? This story’s tone of wry but hopeful resignation made it a perfect opener for this wide-ranging collection.
Other stories were more hard-hitting, such as Malawian writer Stanley Kennai’s “We will dance in Lampedusa” about a pair of hopeful young asylum-seekers trying to get from Tripoli to Italy by boat. Again, a timely story that might open a few eyes, if it ever got to the right ones. Even harder-hitting, though, is Tendayi Bloom’s cleverly titled “Manila envelope”. Bloom is an English political scientist specialising in migration policy. She has lived in the Philippines, though is currently based in Spain. Her story is a heart-sinking one about a naive Filipina teenager and the nefarious practices by which young women in poor countries are lured into foreign exploitative employment arrangements. This was a powerful story indeed, and is probably the one I’ll most remember.
Well, I think that’s half the stories. I can’t write about them all, but I did enjoy them all. The mother of the main character in “Sunrise over Sausalito” tells him that “Life … sends you detours”. And that’s what this book is about – the detours (or turning points) that we all face, and the way that love, of some sort, whether it be genuine and supportive, or exploitative and abusive, is usually behind those changes. Every story offers a different perspective, with a resolution to match. The editors have done an excellent job.
I must say I did chuckle over the front cover blurb written by Lane Ashfeldt, an Irish writer unknown to me. She describes the collection as “Vivid tales of life across the globe that let you travel while standing still”. I chuckled because at the conference on Emma I attended last weekend, we made fun of Mrs Elton’s complaint at the Box Hill picnic that she was “really tired of exploring so long on one spot”! In the case of this book, though, I’m with Ashfeldt. I was way too engaged to even notice that I had stayed on one spot – while my mind had flown around the world!
Sam Tranum and Lois Kapila (ed)
Love on the road 2015: Twelve more tales of love and travel
Dublin: Liberties Press, 2015
(Review copy supplied by Liberties Press)
* This rule is a pragmatic one. I just have to keep a lid on review copies to enable me to have some input into what I read!