The Turning is another of the books that was recommended and given to me while I was in Australia. Before I even opened the cover I had to overcome two of my deep-seated prejudices: I’m resistant to fiction by men (despite numerous great examples to the contrary), and I generally don’t enjoy short stories. But this collection of short stories by an Australian male writer came so highly recommended that I went ahead and picked it up.
I was hooked almost immediately by the strong and believable voice of the first story’s narrator. Though narrators and characters changed from story to story, the book continued to grab me and keep me reading. Every story is beautifully crafted, every character flawed yet sympathetic, and almost every word perfect. This is literary fiction at its best — writing that is beautiful in and of itself, but doesn’t draw attention to itself: the focus is always on the characters, their stories, and the world they live in.
That world is — for most of the stories — a working-class South Australia town in the 1970s, though several stories are set later, in the present day, as adult characters work out the consequences of what happened to them in adolescence. Some of the short stories are specifically linked, as they deal with the same group of characters; others seem unconnected but may share a setting, a peripheral character or event, or just a thematic connection with other stories.
These are stories about people in difficult situations — women and children whose husbands and fathers are absent, young people growing up in a confusing world and trying to find their place in it. Some of the stories are very dark, but none is without a gleam of hope and in many of them, especially the title story and the book’s last story which ends the sequence of linked narratives, a message of hope and redemption is unmistakeable. I didn’t expect to love a collection of short stories this much, but now I want to read a novel by Tim Winton.