Houman Barekat

Ages of Anxiety

Mothers

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Catapult

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Property

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It is relatively unusual for an emerging author to make their breakthrough with a book of short stories, but the thematic unity of Chris Power’s debut collection gives it a sense of wholeness almost on a par with a novel. The writing in Mothers is meditative and controlled: the average sentence rarely exceeds one and a half lines, and there isn’t a superfluous word in sight. In ‘Summer 1976’, the narrator reminisces about her childhood on a housing estate and the time she got the neighbour’s kid into trouble by telling a lie about him. It’s a detail at the periphery of the action that holds our attention, a cherished visual memory of her mother dancing at a party: ‘Who was she really, this woman? She was my mum, of course, but that was only one part, and I want to know all the parts.’ When she came clean about her lie, the narrator wept: ‘I was crying for her, and because of where she was.’

In ‘The Colossus of Rhodes’, a father ponders the sadistic nature of children’s games, noting that his daughters’ role plays ‘revolve around exclusion and repeated demonstrations of the arbitrary’. Looking back on his own childhood, he recalls that his mother tried in vain to get him to appreciate plant life during family holidays (‘The world was fine, but it wasn’t much beside a book’) and remembers being felt up by a paedophile in a games arcade. When the protagonist in ‘The Haväng Dolmen’ gets spooked at a burial site from the Stone Age, prompting him to remember his cruel mistreatment at the hands of some French children during a seaside sojourn, a feeling of déjà vu creeps in. That story ends with him closing his eyes and enjoying the silence; earlier, in ‘Innsbruck’, a would-be suicide feels a pang of envy when she sees a group of tourists taking in the sea breeze. Power deals in small epiphanies, amounting to nothing more or less than a quiet humility before the vastness of time and the soothing permanence of the natural world. Whether that sense of halcyon stillness is its own reward, however, is open to question. The prose, neatly crafted and precise, never overreaches itself; but neither does it soar.

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