I’ll be perfectly frank – the endings of both Dolores by Lauren Aimee Curtis and Western Lane by Chetna Maroo didn’t do much for me. They were fine but not punchy. However, I thoroughly enjoyed both novellas for a bunch of reasons.
Dolores by Lauren Aimee Curtis (130pp)
I was engrossed from the first page of this story, which essentially gives the reader an advance summary of what is about to unfold – a young girl, collapsing at the gates of a convent, is taken in by the nuns. They name her Dolores. She adjusts to the rhythm of her new life – the mundane chores; the pottering, elderly nuns; the bells that ring throughout the day. And inside her, a baby is growing.
The stillness of the convent is spliced with Dolores’ memories of her time before – of ‘love motels’ lit by neon red hearts; sour wine and dancing with friends; and a boy called Angelo.
Curtis’s focus on small, intimate details lifts this story – the wiry hairs on the chins of the nuns; the anticipation as Angelo’s silver car comes into view; the chafe of shoes and shame. When you are able to know so much about a character (and their history), from just a few lines, it’s terrific writing –
Her father did not go to church but he prayed constantly. Little whisper prayers he said while driving or standing in the supermarket or at night before he went to bed. Dolores sometimes watched him through the crack of the bedroom door. That large man, on his knees, his brow furrowed and his hands clasped together, whispering. It was a powerful image. A man who could sometimes scare his children, now kneeling on the ground, surrendering to something higher.
There’s violence in this book, again achieved through stark contrasts. But Curtis doesn’t need to be explicit because the threats of institutions, and of groups of boys fueled by hormones and alcohol and peer pressure, are easily identifiable – all that Curtis does is orchestrate the tension, and she does it very well.
Western Lane by Chetna Maroo (160pp)
Western Lane tells the story of eleven-year-old Gopi, who lives with her father and her two older sisters. Her life has been shattered by the death of her mother, and she takes solace in spending time with her father at the local squash courts. When Gopi’s father registers her for a tournament, her training regimen intensifies, and she drifts apart from her sisters. Squash, and the people associated with it, become all-consuming.
Maroo has created an exquisite story about a family grieving, all in their individual ways. Very gently and realistically, she shows how their grief intersects. Ultimately, this has significant consequences on Gopi’s father’s employment, her sisters’ schooling and the way the family is cared for and treated by others.
Maroo has precise control over Gopi’s perspective – not an easy task when you are writing about a child on the brink of teenage years, and made even more difficult when you add a layer of grief. But by writing from Gopi’s perspective, Maroo has executed a perfect depiction of the ‘dual processing‘ that a person experiences when bereaved. Gopi shifts between missing her mother and worrying about her father and sisters, to thinking about the mundane stuff – the squash raquet she wishes for, the enjoyment she feels sharing a milkshake with her sister, the irritation over an interfering family friend.
Each character in this story, particularly Gopi’s father, is beautifully drawn, and although I have never played squash (and probably never will), I loved the intensity of the game that Maroo captures in her descriptions of echoing courts and speeding balls.
A clean hit can stop time. Sometimes it can feel like the only peace there is.
Check out #NovNov posts from other bloggers here.