Review: Mothers by Chris Power

Read it for the vine cover.Mothers-- bookspoilsChris Power’s stories are peopled by men and women who find themselves at crossroads or dead ends – at ancient Swedish burial sites, river crossings on Exmoor, and raucous Mexican weddings. A stand-up with writer’s block embarks upon his last gig. Reflecting on a childhood holiday, a father is faced with the limit to which he can keep his daughters safe. These characters search without knowing what they seek.

Unfortunately, Mothers turned out to be just another book added to the list of beautiful covers with no compelling storyline to leave me rapt. I continually found an arbitrary flow to the stories that made it rather difficult to keep engaged in my reading.

I will say, though, that the first story starts off promising enough with this below passage that captures an intricate character-building moment, without reading like one:

“On my bedroom wall I had a big poster map of the world and in my bedside drawer I kept a sheet of stickers, red and blue. The red stickers were for the countries I had been to, and the blue stickers were for countries I wanted to visit. The only countries with red stickers on them were Denmark and Sweden.”

The author excels at writing detailed imagery and giving voice to specific thoughts and moments, but at the same time, I can’t deny that the characters in the stories feel completely stiff and traped on the page. Essentially, nothing informative regarding a character’s nature was shared – just their distinct thoughts jotted down.

“Who was she really, this woman? She was my mum, of course, but that was only one part, and I want to know all the parts.”

I went into this hoping for multi-dimensional characters I could root for, or at the very least, care for even a little. But throughout my reading, I felt like something went amiss for me with Mothers that I couldn’t quite describe, which was then, funnily enough, put on the page by the author in the following story, when the narrator goes as follows: “But there isn’t any room for them here. Stories need everything extraneous to be stripped away, and Nancy and Kostas, let alone Karla, are extraneous. So are my brothers, who are barely present at all. ”

I found this to be a huge mistake. I’d much rather spend time reading about the people he got into contact with during his summer vacation, instead of wasting pages upon pages describing a made up fantasy game I had zero connection to.

It’s interesting, really, because Power’s clever ways of exploring and exposing his characters felt unlike anything other. I mean, this quote below made me acutely aware of the linguistic skill it takes to pull something off like this.

“The sky was whitegrey and a cold breeze came from the sea, which lay at the end of the avenue. Standing at a crossing her eyes filled with tears, so completely that for an instant she couldn’t see. Spasms hit her body. She wanted to wipe the tears out of her eyes, but couldn’t lift her arms. There had been episodes like this after her mum died. The sensation, so long forgotten, was instantly familiar. She felt ridiculous, but she couldn’t move. She was a tree in the wind, powerless to do anything but endure. Another spasm went through her and she thought she might be sick. She heard a voice and lifted her head towards the sound.
Her vision began to make sense again. She saw her own face, stricken and doubled: her reflection in the lenses of a large pair of sunglasses worn by a middle-aged woman in a long black coat.”

That moment at the end of seeing her reflection in a stranger’s sunglasses felt like such a bright move on the author’s part. I was taken back by the originality of it all and how the writing didn’t succumb to the usual clichés.

“What am I doing in France?’ she said out loud. She repeated it, then repeated it again, placing the stress on different words in turn. ‘What am I doing in France? What am I doing in France? What am I doing in France?’ ”

These little individual moments is the only link that unites the stories together. So I was a tad dissapointed when the disconnect created between those instants and the flow of each story held me back from truly appreciating Mothers.


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