Bound by Blue by Meg Tuite
5.25 x 8″ paperback
Sententia Books, New York, 2013
also available as an e-Book from Amazon (Kindle Edition)
Review by Eniko Jakab
Published in The Ofi Press issue 38.
A talented university student is haunted by the sexual traumas she suffered as a teenager ("The F Word"); a little girl lives in unspeakable terror as she is repeatedly molested by her brother's friend ("Tooth Fairy"); an elderly woman imagines meeting her duplicate in the supermarket ("The Endless Mirror of Wanda"); the female protagonist in "Lacey's Night Out" is obliged to go bowling with her sons every week, a terrifying ordeal because of her severe social phobia. The collection of 13 short stories by Meg Tuite offers a reading experience which is intoxicating and uncomfortable at the same time. Some of the stories are truly harrowing, while others have an almost hallucinatory quality. All of them bear witness to the fact that the author knows the human heart well, especially its darkest, most hidden secrets, and writes about them in compelling, unique, beautiful prose. What first seems like cold objectivity eventually glides into a sensitive, frighteningly evocative, compassionate narration, as the author guides us into the mind of the abused and the abuser, the tortured and the torturer, drawing in the reader completely. The style of the writing is irresistible, even though the topics – depicting the many faces of the disintegration of the self: among others alienation, relationship dependency, paranoia, trauma from grief or abuse – are haunting and sombre. These stories fearlessly explore the monsters lurking in the psyche, and challenge the reader to self-reflection.
The narrative mode employed alternates between first- and third-person narration, giving a defining rhythm to the collection. The author writes equally convincingly about the anguish of her young protagonists and the warped heart of the older characters. The people she portrays are essentially lonely, and, most importantly, they do not love themselves; some of them are relentlessly punishing themselves for the traumas they never managed to recover from, like Audrey in "The F Word", refusing to eat, and Edward, the Oedipal protagonist in the pivotal short story "Bound by Blue".
Even if there is a family and there are attempts to love, to nurture and care, these efforts are mostly futile. There is no possibility to communicate, no chance of real understanding: relationships, especially within families, are hollowed-out, dysfunctional and either fail to offer real affection and protection, or are indeed menacing and the very cause of the trauma, as in Edward's case in "Bound by Blue": here the mother's reading to her son, traditionally the quintessential image of love and bonding between parent and child, becomes the emblem of abuse and sheer terror: 'Story time was a nightmare that kept him insomniac for the remainder of his childhood. When he got older, reading at night was as relaxing as watching a horror film'.
The familiarity of the everyday settings – the college, the suburb, drive-ins and car parks, the old people's home, the supermarket, the bowling alley, the home with the television on – makes the impact of these stories even more haunting: as if they could be happening right now, next door.
This is very intensive and empathic writing, yet there is irony and humour too, especially apparent in the last short story of the collection, "The Healer", which differs from the preceding stories in several ways. It radiates powerful energy; the protagonist, a young college graduate reveals a great deal more of self-awareness and ironic self-reflexion than the characters in the previous stories. Rose tries to break out of her own universe which has captured her, as she puts it: "My hell (…). The kind that makes my body do spastic things it doesn't even know it will do. Like it's taken by evil aliens". The setting of the story is also more exotic than in the previous ones: she leaves her claustrophobic life – where she chose to have "minimal exposure to humanity" – in order to meet a mysterious "healer" in the middle of the Brazilian jungle.
The tone of this final story, with the triumph of finding strength in oneself, allows us to finish the collection with a sense of hopefulness. These stories, however, stay with the reader long after closing the book, and their echo keeps resonating in one's mind – which is the mark of truly great art.