A five year old boy who repeats the things his father says to his mother. The caretaker of a prairie amusement park. A divorce lawyer whose own marriage is at risk. A travelling sports drink salesman. A suspended paramedic who answers a call against orders. These characters and more all have one thing in common - one major quality that has become their biggest weakness.
Whirl Away, by Russell Wangersky, is the 2012 Giller Prize long listed collection of short stories that examines what happens in peoples lives when they are forced to face the realization that their lives have gone astray and the one thing that has been keeping them going is now bringing them down. It's a fantastic look at what happens to people when their worlds begin to spin off axis.
I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of stories. Each one is rich in details, with characters who could be anyone you pass daily on the street but who hold inside of them secrets and struggles that define who they are. Wangersky finds the difficulties and harshness in the details of everyday life and puts them into tales that stay with the reader long after the stories are finished. They definitely aren't light-hearted and they're not for the easily rattled. They take you inside the moment of crisis and shine a light on what brings a person to those depths.
In "Echo" a young boy sits outside his house while his parents argue inside. The young boy innocently parrots the harsh things he hears his father say to his mother on what must be a daily basis. This heartbreaking story ends with a visit to the house by the authorities and the young boy still oblivious to the turmoil that exists in his home. Right from the start this story hit me hard and from here I was hooked on Wangersky's writing.
In "Sharp Corner," a man is obsessed with telling the stories of car crashes that occur at the end of his driveway on a regular basis. The idea of being there at the eye of the storm takes over him and he can't speak of anything else. As he embellishes the stories and gives himself a greater place in them, he alienates those around him, the ones who don't want to know the details. As the man relishes in his stories, the reader cringes. One can only wonder at what is missing in this mans life that he feels the need to witness what makes experienced rescuers ill.
These are two of my favourites of the twelve stories in Whirl Away, excellently crafted stories that don't need much time to draw the reader in, to surprise and to grab hold. Some stories are definitely stronger than others, but as a collection they work together to examine the roller coaster ride our lives are and how things play out when our they get away from us.