The stories in Wendy Erskine’s new collection strike profound chords that transcend her tales’ Northern Irish borders. Her characters are adrift cleaners, tan-addicted wives, competitive sisters and drinkers dreaming of more salubrious climes. They are bereaved parents, divorced mothers, feckless fathers and parents struggling with wayward adolescents. Erskine depicts their plights with an ironic humour that makes her stories as entertaining as they are affecting, conjuring her characters’ murky interior lives by subtle, understated means.
As in her first collection, Sweet Home, Erskine’s use of contrasts communicates more about her characters’ feelings and perspectives than any overt statement would. In ‘Golem’, at a party, one middle-aged character’s incongruous knack for doing bike tricks enables him to connect with another character’s daughter: ‘And then the string quartet starts playing a sprightly version of Happy Birthday. The bike is left lying on the grass.’ In the context of a narrative about family tensions and the pain of not having children, the quiet detail of the abandoned bike conveys a childless couple’s sorrow without overstatement – or, indeed, any statement.
In ‘Secrets Bonita Beach Krystal Cancun’, a recent divorcee takes it hard when her friend jets off to Mexico on holiday with a new lover; she attempts to compete by making a comically dismal excursion of her own to a coastal B&B. She looks up the forecast for Cancun: