Pritchard, Bindy. Fabulous Lives. Witchcliffe: Margaret River Press, 2019. RRP: $27.00, 242pp, ISBN: 9780648485049.
There is an interesting dynamic between the ordinary and the extraordinary in Bindy Pritchard’s debut short story collection Fabulous Lives, in that the line between the two seems to be gossamer thin.
The publisher’s description is a good place to start; ‘This is a collection of short stories that embraces people with all their frailties and strengths, failures and hopes, as they reach critical junctures in their lives.’ (Margaret River Press website, 2019). It is that last segment that is the most significant when looking at exactly what makes these stories as engaging as they are; ‘They reach critical junctures in their lives’ (emphasis my own). In a society increasingly dominated by the extraordinary—influencers, celebrities, sportspeople and other notable humans—we shouldn’t, really, be interested in critical junctures in these characters’ ordinary lives, but we are. Why? Because the way Pritchard writes—her characterisation, the language she uses, the plots she chooses—reveals the extraordinary in the everyday actions of very ordinary people.
There is a layered element to her storytelling that draws you in with the familiar, before grasping your attention with something quite unexpected. But importantly, these unexpected occurrences are plausible. The characters in this book are your friends, family members, colleagues, neighbours, and their actions and reactions are understandable as things we might do, say, or feel. It is this understanding of human connection that renders these stories as ‘fabulous’ as the title suggests.
A woman with cancer tries to come to terms with her impending death, a downbeat owner of a bowling alley cuts corners, a woman takes a church puppet show too far, a man discovers an unusual egg and tries to profit from it, a woman finds herself tricked by an old schoolfriend. There’s nothing here that is not ordinary, that could not easily occur in everyday life. But delve just a little deeper, and each of these tales (or fables, if you will) reveals what is extraordinary about these seemingly ordinary lives.
In ‘Dying’ a cancer sufferer imagines what life will be like for her husband after her death.
Once she came to his bed, crept between the covers without saying a word. She wanted to feel his hands on her body, feel that desire in his mouth, and have it cover her entire skin. But she was too brittle. She could come apart in his hands. It seemed there was nothing left of her for him to touch or hold.
She whispered, ‘Graham, I think you should remarry.’ (26)
In this one small passage lies the juxtaposition of ordinary and extraordinary. What is ordinary, or expected, is the desire she feels to have her husband touch her again, to connect with him. What is extraordinary is the reality of how the disease has changed their relationship, where once his touch would have represented love and living, it now represents danger and fear that he will destroy her.
Pritchard’s writing unpeels, layer after layer, with such subtlety and nuance that it captures your imagination before you know it. In ‘The Shape of Things’ she delves into the limitlessness of our creativity and the ability of humans to perceive things in unexpected ways. In this story Leonie finds a young man unconscious outside her apartment and administers CPR. She allows him to stay there and recover while she goes about her day-to-day life, but the mysticism of him weaves like smoke through the ordinary events of her day.
‘When the young man finally stepped into the room, a fine mist from the shower seemed to come with him, and when it cleared Leonie gasped at the vision: glistening bare chest, silky white boxers, and rising from his shoulders two magnificent tessellated wings.
Was it really the archangel Michael, sent as both avenger and judge to smite this city?’ (18)
No, it’s not an angel, it’s a young man ready to go out to Mardi Gras, but the power of Pritchard’s description and storytelling brings to life the vision, the sheer magic, of that moment in which a woman is moved to believe that an ordinary man is an angel.
Often with the stories in Fabulous Lives you begin thinking you know where they’re going to go, but as you read on you begin to expect the unexpected. This juxtaposition of the ordinary and extraordinary is blatantly apparent in tales like ‘Goddess of Fire and Wind’, where the sexual dynamic between a husband a wife is explored through their guided tour of an active volcano. We have the ordinary;
Margaret could sense a change in her husband now, and she knew that when they got back to the hotel he would go to the bathroom and use the mouth gargle, always the sure sign he would be expecting sex that night. She would have to muster up a vestige of desire, something which was becoming harder and harder these days. (180)
And the extraordinary;
Still, she would take her time in the bathroom and make Des wait. And if he was still awake when she finally emerged, steaming and all clean, she would make him slow down and take his time, so that when she felt the prickle of heat in her groin building to an unbearable crescendo, it would be allowed to build and build until it had nowhere else to go. (181)
The volcano that they have been exploring symbolises the shift between ordinary and extraordinary—a lump of rock becomes a destructive force, a woman, a wife, becomes a goddess. Pritchard is a storyteller, that much is clear, and one with a distinctly satisfying grasp on the human condition. Embrace these ordinary lives and stories, as she has, and you’ll find that they are indeed as fabulous as the title suggests.
Jen is a writer and journalist based in Perth. She lived and worked in Edinburgh, Scotland for ten years and has written for a number of UK newspapers and magazines including The List, The Guardian and The Scotsman. Previously Arts and Events Editor of Scoop Events, she now works in the marketing team at Fremantle Press.