A writer I feel inordinately close to, each story at once like being home and being tossed to the wolves. Linguistic obsession, dark humour, jigsaw pieces that never come together, all reminiscent of choreography as much as tale-weaving. Details are microscopic, vitally observed, then quickly, telescopically reversed, blurred, pulled back into a not-quite-whole. The rain smells like old silver jewellery. A rat-king moves in an attic. A woman sings “Star-Spangled Banner” for a dead friend. All the usual subjects, weddings, divorce, heterosexual monogamy, but split up, different, interspersed with mothers and daughters, friends, neighbours, and, of course, the small citizen’s relationship to state warfare – here, the Iraq War. The signature puns abound, the bark of the title – both the stuff she strips off trees and the cries of dogs – running through the stories like the uncanny. As always, painful, funny, intelligent, and unbearably intimate.
Concerned first and foremost with intersectionality, a brief, stark, incisive tract that is another introduction to feminism. Better than most post-second wave works, a call to embrace mass global feminist movement, spotlighting hooks’ characteristic linguistic construction: “feminist movement” and NOT “feminism.” The distinction is patent, a focus on praxis not theory, despite its title. Often it suffers from this, treading an unstable line between palatability and radicalism, most potent in the eagerness to embrace men and heterosexuality. Attacks on white liberal feminism are long overdue, perfect, necessary even more today. Without race and class feminism is useless. Again, outdated cherishing of a destructive gender binary undermines the heat and power of the call for radical eradication of white patriarchal domination and oppression. Most trenchant are chapters on violence and sisterhood. Easy to carry, underline, page through, slip into the hands of those acquaintances who skirt the edges of feminism but don’t yet feel its radical core.
Free will, destiny, a cosmology without answers. Senior citizens play chess and wear panama hats, deaths are preordained and wanted, carried out by bald doctors. An old man mourns his wife, cannot sleep, falls into a universe of auras and violence. The opportunity is missed to render the true horror of insomnia, cheapened and never threatening, a mere discomfort, never consuming, torturous, painful, insane. A strange plotline about reproductive rights, King’s misogyny never far from the surface, until a shrill, selfish, aggressive feminist meets the fate that is the second-best fantasy of every misogynist: decapitation. Peopled by the silly, beautiful-or-ugly women of so much men’s fiction, shaped by the paternalism of old Ralph Roberts, who sympathises with the abuser but saves a women’s shelter from the lone wolf on a shooting spree. Long, as always, too long, crowded with explication, repetition, one too many interjections from the dead wife. But 90s commercial fiction at its best: read at an airport, addled with jetlag, in a time-warp, expecting nothing.