I’ve never been much for collections of short stories (big, fat Stephen King novels have always been more my style) but Alice Tawhai’s latest, Luminous is making me reconsider my formerly dismissive stance. Luminous, which is one of the Fiction finalists in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards is full of juicy little narrative morsels all of which can be comfortably read over morning tea.
Tawhai has a lovely way of describing the people and surroundings in her stories that paints a recognisable picture in only a few words (surely a necessity in the short story format). Consider if you will -
In the living room, Kuki had to pick his way across holes in the floor to get to the old chairs, which looked a lot like puddings that had been sat on.
In front of it was a girl with pale yellow ringlets; the colour of the imitation butter that the doctor wanted my mum to eat so that she’d lose some weight.
A million-shower of white cabbage butterflies hung above them, dislodging each other; floating like fragments of torn-up love letters thrown into the air.
Thematically the stories seem to carry through them a thread of bittersweet disappointment making the cover image of Luminous a fitting one. At a glance it’s a pleasing, pretty flower but when you look more closely you see that it is bruised and slightly wilted which the people and relationships that Tawhai describes have more than a little in common with. That might seem a little depressing but many of the stories are lightened by the presence of ironic humour (and more than a little sauce) so despite everything you’re left feeling cheered as often as you are maudlin.
The stories are very brief so there’s always afternoon tea if morning tea’s story wasn’t to your liking.