There’s a certain rawness to Graham Joyce’s stories, in that he always manages to shock me somewhat in his frank writing about taboo subjects–in this case, as in most, sex. I hate to think that I’m something of a prude, but I did grow up Baptist. In the typewriters of lesser authors, this wouldn’t be worthwhile, but Joyce always is well-grounded in the foibles of people and the frank writing about sexual matters is not puerile but necessary to understand the characters.
The story here is a vacation outing of a family (man, woman, two girl children), and three of their friends (another mixed couple and a single female). The problems occur because that which brings them together–their connections to each other, their focus on the children–is also what begins to drive them apart. The father who had once employed his male friend and bagged him because he felt threatened by his friend’s success merges with the knowledge that his friend has of the father’s past affair with the single woman. The mother becomes a hen over her children, one of which has been having decidedly strange “spells” of strangeness (actions and words that seem to emerge full cloth rather than through mimicry).
Joyce writes on the edge of fantasy, similar to Jonathan Carroll and Robertson Davies, and also similar to the Latin American style of magical realism. In this novel, he attempts to break somewhat from the fantastic and strives for a New Yorker-style realism in the make-up of his characters. Stylistically, he’s too straightforward in his sentences to be one of the new literati, even while he retains that strange subtlety that keeps you wondering about just how much you really know about this world and the characters that inhabit it.
[Finished 31 July 2002]