Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Janette Turner Hospital

Janette Turner Hospital

"Here and Now"

As it happened, Alison was wearing black when the phone call came; black velvet, cut low in front with a thin silver chain at her throat.
Thus begins an evocative little sketch of Alison as she receives news from her home in Australia.  Surrounded by ice and snow in Canada, the coldness of the weather is contrasted with the warmth of the celebration she attends for a retiring professor.  But whilst the champagne corks are popping all around her in the joyous environment of the Faculty Club, Alison denies the reality of the news she has just received.  She can trick herself into believing that it hasn't happened yet because of course Brisbane time is in the future for her in Canada.  This denial helps her to get through a speech and some small talk, until she encounters Walter, a type of  "Ancient Mariner" who stops her from leaving and shares his story of woe.  When grief collides with grief the lid is blown from her denial, just as the sewer lids are popping in the streets of Toronto (a puzzling image).

Knowing that Janette Turner Hospital lived in Kingston, Ontario at the same time I did, and imagining this story set at the Queen's University Faculty Club (which does indeed overlook the water) I felt an immediate connection to the setting of this story.  The icy windshield, getting the car out of the driveway before the snow plough comes past, and the slippery parking lot are just a few of the pitch perfect details that contribute to the verisimilitude of a winter in Canada for Alison, the Australian.  In this very short story, just four pages long, Janette Turner Hospital has evoked a shock so disorienting as to unhinge Alison in time and space. Her body and her mind are separate as she returns in her shock to the land of her childhood, and looking out the car window she sees not Lake Ontario, but the Brisbane River.

A Quote:

At the Faculty Club, Alison's car slewed a little on the ice, nudged a parked Toyota, hesitated, then slid obediently into the neighbouring space.  She sat trembling slightly, her hands on the wheel, the engine still running, and stared through the windshield at the Brisbane River.  Here, on the lip of the campus, a membrane of ice already stretched across the water for as far as she could see.  The membrane was thinner than a fingernail, milky white.
Janette Turner Hospital's writing:

The Ivory Swing (1982)
The Tiger in the Tiger Pit (1983)
Borderline (1985)
Dislocations (1986) short fiction
Charades (1988)
Isobars (1990) short fiction
A Very Proper Death (1990) crime thriller, under the name Alex Juniper
The Last Magician (1992)
Collected Stories (1995) short fiction
L'Envolee (1995) novella in French
Oyster (1996)
Due Preparations for the Plague (2003)
North of Nowhere, South of Loss (2003) short fiction
Orpheus Lost (2007)

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