The idea behind Trent Dalton’s latest book, Love Stories, is absolutely gorgeous – it started with a sky-blue 1960s Olivetti typewriter (the much-loved machine of his best mate’s mum). Add a portable table, a sign stating ‘Sentimental Writer Collecting Love Stories’, and a couple of months on a busy street in Brisbane, and the result was a collection of stories about the many facets of love – love that is sustained, lost, returned, unrequited, deep, or fleeting…
The stories about love are shared by ordinary people, and Dalton intersperses his own insights throughout. A woman who rues years of smoking because they cost her a kiss – “…love is two years of not being kissed by Norm Clark”; a blind man who yearns to see the face of his wife of thirty years (made me cry); the deep connection between life-long friends, Rhonda and Rachele (reminded me of this article by Dalton); and a widower who miraculously finds a three-minute video recorded by his wife before she died.
I’m not sure how he does it, but Dalton manages to write with delicacy and raw emotion at the same time. In a story about a mum who contemplates removing the photographs of her late husband (tragically killed in a freak accident) from the fridge, he says –
Letting go. Who would ever do such a thing? Let go of the one you love? Let them go from your heart, from your memory, from the door of your fridge?… She will never let him go. She will never stop staring at the pictures on the refrigerator. She will not protect herself from the feeling of love. She will cry her eyes out when she needs to until the day she dies and she will feel every bit of the ache of true love. She will weep, she will hurt, she will feel and then she will breathe and then she will dry her eyes and then she will smile and then she will take the frozen peas out of the freezer.
Naturally I was drawn to the stories that had an element of grief and, as is frequently the case with Dalton’s writing, what seems happy, suddenly takes a turn and I find myself crying. In reflecting on his relationship with his own father, Dalton says –
And it seems so fucking tragic and absurd to me now, and it hurts so fucking hard to confess through the tears that fall from my eyes, as I sit here on the corner of Adelaide and Albert streets in a busy world without him in it, that the longest hug I ever shared with my dad was the one we shared when he was dead.
Some readers will find this book saccharine, and to be frank, Dalton loves a metaphor and perhaps leans on them a little too hard in spots. But overall, I found his words a tonic. His joy and delight, his wonder, and his curiosity comes through in every story. Psychologist Carl Rogers had a number of principles underpinning his approach to person-centred therapy. One of these principles is unconditional positive regard, and it is something I saw evidence of in Dalton’s collection of stories. And I reckon that’s a rare thing to capture on the page.
One of the stories in this collection revolves around a shared love for Cherry Ripe bars.
‘Dad bought that Cherry Ripe and he shared it with Mum… they didn’t have any money, those two. And when you don’t have any money, something as small as a Cherry Ripe can mean so much.’
Their love was true. Their love had a coconut and cherry centre. Their love was sealed and wrapped for eternity in rich dark chocolate.
There are lots of baked slice versions of Cherry Ripes, but my absolute favourite is the recipe my Nan always made from a Women’s Weekly cookbook – Cherry Coconut Slice.
‘Charming’ usually makes me run screaming form the room but this does sound lovely.
I thought Dalton’s writing in Boy Swallows Universe was good, and the story so-so. This seems an interesting, ok strange, project for him to take up, and not one I’d want to read I don’t think. C’mon Trent, if you want to write about love, write a character based novel (no action scenes!), this stuff is just research.
Agree! I found this book to be a true tonic and so timely. It just gave me a lot of joy to read it and that’s a rare thing to find in a book.
I’ve been reluctant to read this. My first thought is are these his stories to tell? Can he not come up with his own ideas? But maybe I am being picky.
I think the way it’s done, and the origin of the project avoids the issue of ‘whose story’. I reckon if I’d walked past his set-up, I wouldn’t have been able to resist sitting down for a chat, so I guess people went in with a level of willingness. All that said, it is simply going to be too schmaltzy for some readers.
I’m not generally one for schmaltz, but this sounds like he just avoids it. I’ve surprised myself by being tempted!
That book can touch hearts of even heartless such greatly written piece of gold !