Author(s): Janice Galloway
Short story collections are appealing for many reasons. I am always surprised by some readers’ resistance to the short story form. What I like about a short story is the bite-size clarity that comes with a small moment that often has a profound or deeper layer; the sharpness of language as every sentence is and should be taut — necessary; and when it is a cohesive collection, how the characters and themes overlay each other, building resonance and subtle interlinked play that often surprisingly and suddenly take your breath away. It’s also a great way to be introduced to a new author without the commitment of a novel. At the conclusion of Janice Galloway’s collection Jellyfish, I realised I had been struck by all these elements. And I am pleased to note there are more fictions as well as memoir and art collaborations to investigate.
The stories in Jellyfish deal with relationships: romantic — sex, love and commitment and discovery; parental — motherhood in particular; and internal — psychological machinations and mental health. The opening story, 'Jellyfish', is an ironic ode to motherhood on the eve of a young boy’s first day at school. It has all the tenderness and contradictions that parents feel when a child reaches a ‘milestone’. Galloway cleverly reveals the menace of change through the mother’s view of a day trip to the beach, a menace that is all to do with the parent’s internal world rather than any real external threat — other than change and abandonment of past structures and controls. These tensions between a mother and a child surface throughout the collection, either directly between child and parent or played out between parents. Most affecting in this regard is 'Distance' — a mother, to cope with her own paranoia, separates herself from her partner and child and over the years the distance between mother and child widens. When a health crisis emerges she must put her house in order and here her own past childhood comes to catch her — and the underbelly of her inability to cope is revealed, the curtain is pulled away. Several of Galloway’s stories deal with the need for women to hold back, to protect themselves from their own past parental histories, their interactions with their children and with their partners. There is a quiet unease in many of the women as they navigate life — somewhat remote — seemingly disconnected from their interactions with others due to fear, loss or the desire remain unfettered despite the contradictory impulse in seeking meaningful emotional connection. 'Gold' is powerful and memorable — about taking a chance and unwittingly creating risk. Grace as a teen is abandoned by her mother, smart and tough enough to cope. And she does, gets herself through school, further education and a sound job — always sensible and competent, her life has a predictable path as long as she does not swerve from it, but she is completely alone. A stalwart to all, but nobody to everyone. Yet a painting changes her life, like a flip of a coin — a new side is revealed with all its possibilities. Galloway writes tautly with black humour that lifts the words from the doldrums, using illuminating metaphors which give richness and depth to the text, and with a visceral passion and a lightness of touch that complement the more cerebral moments.