Russell Wangersky’s collection Whirl Away is the second short-story collection I’ve read this year, which is something of a record for me, and like the other collection (Ed Kavanagh’s Strays) I thoroughly enjoyed it. Wangersky is a master of using language: every phrase and sentence seems perfectly polished. But the beauty of his writing never distracts from the characters in the stories and the dark, often painful situations they face. Weeks after reading this collection, two of the stories still haunt me; both are, in a way, about domestic violence, but in each case the situation is approached from a perspective you wouldn’t normally see, and it makes the sadly familiar suddenly chilling. In “Echo,” a five-year-old (possibly autistic?) child suffers from echolalia and can only repeat the words he hears his parents exchange: coming from a child’s mouth those words tell a frightening story. In “Look Away” an isolated man in an isolated place — a lighthouse keeper — is frustrated with his wife and children; only as the story unfolds does the reader grasp that the lighthouse-keeper’s perception and his reality are two very different things.
If you love a well-constructed short story that captures a slice of time and human experience so vividly you won’t be able to shake it off — or if, like me, you’re skeptical about short stories but would like to try a few — pick up Whirl Away. You may be haunted, but you won’t regret it.