Monday, 29 May 2017

'Christy'

A surprise, here, in Rebecca Lloyd's Seven Strange Stories. The previous two tales I've read and reviewed are very British in character, but now we're in rural America. I suspect the Midwest USA is intended, rather than the South. But wherever it is, somebody is playing 'Duelling Banjos' in the vicinity.

The story is told by Yola, a much-abused wife and mother, as an extended flashback to the Seventiees and the disappearance of her beloved son Earl. Earl was lamed by rickets, a condition that also afflicted Yola's only daughter. The poor girl was disposed of by her ghastly father, Daddy Hines. As a concession to his wife he does not murder his lame son. It's that kind of set up.

Earl vanished a few weeks after he starts taking about Christy. An imaginary friend? A ghost? Some combination of the two? Who- or whatever Christy is, when he touches Earl the boy is scarred by icy fingertips. Or is the whole thing a figment of Yola's imagination? Her friend Dulcie thinks so, but then Dulcie's yen for Daddy Hines makes her judgement more than a little suspect.

This is a remarkable example of a British writer attempting to riff on American Gothic conventions and almost pulling it off. I say almost because of two drawbacks. One is the presence of too many Britishisms, such as 'arse' for 'ass' - that makes no sense. And Yola's language is arguably too conventional, too devoid of specific regional words and phrases to be wholly convincing. She sounds a little too 'straight' and British at times.

That said, when 'Christy' shines - as in the descriptions of Yola's bleak existence - it shines with a clear, cold light. I was reminded of Robert Frost's poem 'A Servant to Servants', another portrayal of the rural wife's grim existence, albeit in a very different context. And in the end Yola wins most of her battles, as strong women tend to do. Daddy Hines, by contrast, suffers the fate of all hard men.

'The tattoos all over his arms and legs... have got him looking more like a grey rag than a living man now; since he's shrunk and gone flabby like the violent men all do down this way.'

So, another winner. Stay tuned for more of this running review.

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