Thursday, December 04, 2008

Exquisite miniature ...

... Tom and Nancy have been married for 45 years. But for the last 23 days, 14 hours and 28 minutes, as Tom tells Nancy at lunch just before "she ups and leaves, her prawn cocktail barely touched, his steak and kidney pie still steaming," the two have been separated. Nancy has been living with their daughter, who has just split from her husband. "And angry women stick together, don't they? It's natural that Janice would pick Nancy's team, not his." So Tom tells himself anyway.
By the time he is able to follow Nancy out the door of the restaurant, she is nowhere in sight and he wanders the unfamiliar neighborhood aimlessly until he steps into an art gallery where an exhibition is opening.
This is the set-up for "Ploughman's Lunch," the first story in a collection titled Slipping the Moorings by Susan McCallum-Smith. It's the only one of the nine stories I've read so far, but if the others are anywhere near as good, this should prove a splendid read.
The economy of means employed in "Ploughman's Lunch" is marvelous. Tom cannot understand why Nancy has left him - but we can, though we can also see that, in his dense and oafish way, he does love her. The fact is, both Tom and Nancy are lost, to each other and themselves. In limning their plight - and hinting at that of the young artist whose show has opened - McCallum-Smith provides a moving glimpse of what John Hall Wheelock called "the heartbreak at the heart of things."

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