Long Lost Review: Breath by Tim Winton

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 27th May 2008Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Penguin Australia
Pages: 265
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
★   ★ – 2 Stars

On the wild, lonely coast of Western Australia, two thrillseeking and barely adolescent boys fall into the enigmatic thrall of veteran big-wave surfer Sando. Together they form an odd but elite trio. The grown man initiates the boys into a kind of Spartan ethos, a regimen of risk and challenge, where they test themselves in storm swells on remote and shark-infested reefs, pushing each other to the edges of endurance, courage, and sanity. But where is all this heading? Why is their mentor’s past such forbidden territory? And what can explain his American wife’s peculiar behavior? Venturing beyond all limits—in relationships, in physical challenge, and in sexual behavior—there is a point where oblivion is the only outcome.

I was discussing this book yesterday so I decided to make this my Long Lost Review this month. I read this in 2008 for uni and it wasn’t that great; the only things I remember was that it was about surfing and it was not that interesting. I guess I can add forgettable as well. The thing with Tim Winton is if people don’t tell you they like to read Tim Winton it’s hard to recommend him. He has such a style of his own, and he’s so very much obsessed with writing about WA and in such lyrical metaphorical words that it’s not always to everyone’s taste. Though, to his credit, he can write a “literary” style book with a restraint so many others lack. You don’t quite feel like clawing your eyes out but you get bogged down in his detailed description of the dirt and the landscape and his Big Ideas.

But back to the actual book. I remember it having surfing and…that’s it. Even reading the blurb has not sparked any recognition about what this is about. Again though, if you like the lyrical language and the literary tone of Winton then go for it because this has a lot of that in there. Cloudstreet was great so I am not anti any Winton, but so often most of his books are forgettable to me so it makes it a hard sell. But, the people do love him so who am I to judge?

The Sense of Touch by Ron Parsons

Today as part of The Sense of Touch Blog Tour hosted by Pump Up Your Book, I have a review to share with you all. The Sense of Touch is a collection of short stories by Ron Parsons about  transformation, finding yourself, and hope. In the eight short stories we see the lives and experiences of a range of people, with each story offering the characters and the readers something to take away with them. The book is available as a paperback or as an ebook so check it out!



About the Book:

The Sense of TouchOld friends uncomfortably reunited and lovers who cling to their distance from one another; disappearing fathers, fiercely loving grandfathers, and strangers who pass through and radically change lives…These are among the characters who populate the rugged Midwestern landscapes of the mesmerizing fiction world of Ron Parsons. In his debut collection, THE SENSE OF TOUCH (Aqueous Books; May 1, 2013), Parsons captures people of various ages in the act of searching for meaning and connection and themselves. Firmly set in South Dakota, Minnesota, and Michigan, the lush but often brutally cold heartland of America, the eight stories explore universal themes–loneliness, betrayal, transformation, hope–in fresh, sometimes fanciful, sometimes comical, sometimes jarring, and always moving and memorable ways.

 

Ron Parsons 2About the Author

RON PARSONS is a writer living in Sioux Falls. Born in Michigan and raised in South Dakota, he was inspired to begin writing fiction in Minneapolis while attending the University of Minnesota. His short stories have appeared in many literary magazines and venues, including The Gettysburg Review, Indiana Review, Storyville App, The Briar Cliff Review, Flyway, and The Onion. His debut collection of stories, THE SENSE OF TOUCH, was released by Aqueous Books in 2013.

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Published: 1st May 20133349b-goodreads-button
Publisher:
 Aqueous Books
Pages:
 252
Format: 
ebook
Genre:
 Short story/Literary Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Note: I was given a copy of this book to review

The Sense of Touch is a collection of short stories that capture the lives and the landscape of the Midwest. The stories in the collection are all different, but in some ways they are all the same. They all tell stories about men and women and their lives, however extraordinary or otherwise. They show that the lives of the seemingly ordinary can be complex, that they can be both mundane and filled with passion or excitement at the same time.

What occurs in these stories shows that the seemingly ordinary can be quite extraordinary not just for the people involved, but for the reader as well. Parson is quite skilled at lulling you into a story only to turn it on its head. And while this does not occur in every story, or even in an obvious way, you never know when one will happen. It is a sudden turn you were not predicting in the story, and the style in which Parsons introduces is clever, sneaking it upon you, or casually throwing in a sentence in among a seemingly ordinary paragraph. A line, a word, a piece of dialogue can change everything and leave you questioning what has happened or shocked and engrossed in the change or new piece of information.

Short stories have the ability to capture an entire life in a short space, whether that entire lifetime is covered or not. How people are portrayed in short stories reveal so much about them as people, about the relationships they are in, they are quite skilled and powerful at telling you an entire story while not telling us an entire story. Parsons does this well, the lives of the everyday are captured and highlighted, in the remarkable and unremarkable, in the public eye and in the intimate. The characters in this collection bring their own essence to their story, whether it is the contemplations of man’s life with his grandfather, a woman trying to find herself in the city, or a man reigniting a friendship with a school friend.

What was interesting about this collection is that there are not always conclusions or final answers about things. The open ended nature of the stories isn’t unsatisfying though; there is a sense of completeness where you do not need to know any more. You understand the characters will either continue on as they are, no sign of change, or there are heart-warming moments that make you realise they are going to be ok, even after all they’ve told you. A few unanswered questions allow the readers to make up their own minds, and even those with hints at conclusions still allow you the same opportunity.

With a total of eight stories making up this collection Parsons’ gives us people who could be anybody and who in some way can be related to by everybody. The absurd stories are beautiful and engaging, while offering an insight into the lives and mind of others, with a touch of the unspoken, and certainly one of lasting impression.

Runaway Joe by David Hight

Published: February 8th, 2014
Goodreads badgePublisher: Self Published
Format: Ebook
Genre: Literary Fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Note: I was asked for a review by the author

Runaway Joe is the story of a young drifter who has isolated himself from the rest of humanity, both physically and emotionally. Until in the summer of 1972, he meets an exceptional young woman, who introduces him to the magic and power of theatre, taking him on a journey through his own mind, and healing his spirit in the process. 
There’s a huge cast of characters that revolve around Joe’s story, and they’ll guide you through tales that run the gamut of human emotion and ethics.
 
Tragedy and sorrow, as well as triumph and joy are well represented. Grace and elegance, compassion and courtesy are there too. But it’s not all flowers and sunshine, there’s despair so deep, it’s crippling, there is maliciousness, manipulation, unconscionable villainy and horrifying insanity.
 

 

The story is about Joe, Vietnam Vet, now a wanderer who sells arrowheads and artifacts he finds in his travels. We’re introduced to Joe as he is heading to the east coast of America, hoping to arrive alongside a mystery letter he has mailed. Through the early chapters we grow to understand Joe through his reflections and flashbacks on his father and his childhood and we begin to understand who he is and why he is in the situation he’s in. These are very powerful chapters I felt, as they show the relationship and impact a parent can have on their child, as well as the lessons that stay with them years later.

Understanding who Joe is entirely is revealed in snippets as he chats to people who offer him a lift or through further reflections, flashbacks, and conversations sparked by events around him. The types of people and the conversations that happen with those who offer Joe a lift are certainly interesting; some people are very open in discussing their entire lives, while others are a key reason why no one should ever hitchhike. Ever.

Writing about the past is no doubt a hard task, trying to write about an era that has already happened with the knowledge and history of the years afterwards influencing how something is written. The social changes and opinions of the present day are established and by talking about the past the tendency to add a philosophical and prophetic tone to the narrative is tempting and it can also make it appear too reflective.

From early on there are many philosophical discussions and moments with characters, between Joe and his father, with Joe and strangers who offers him lifts, and eventually between Joe, Tom, and Laura, a father and daughter he gets to know after arriving in a small town. These discussions were an interesting aspect, for some characters it suited the context and worked well, while others seems out of place, either because of the character speaking or the context.

Whether it is the 70s setting, the United States location, or the literary fiction genre, I found the dialogue on occasion slightly tedious. I thought that sometimes the characters were saying more things than were necessary and occasionally it sounded out of character or unnatural as a realistic conversational tone.  Character conversations often sound like narrative rather than believable conversation, especially when it does not always uphold this tone throughout. In doing so it makes the characters seem more than what they are portrayed to be, and when it returns to normal conversation it reads as stilted, I never got comfortable with the conversation tone that was depicted, no matter how casual it was intended to sound. I will admit though that like the philosophical discussions, these in-depth and detailed long conversations worked with some people and scenes and not with others.

Joe is usually very reserved but speaks with experience from what he has seen, and on occasion with an acceptable ignorance, Tom on the other hand speaks in a way that I thought didn’t suit his nature, for a man who holds many jobs in a small town he was often preachy and spoke like someone who knew everything about the world. Though being Police Chief, Judge, as well as running a farm could be explained for Tom’s manner, seeing what he does and having age and experience on his side, but with an air of judgement in his subtle lectures to Joe it always felt slightly patronising.

This highly philosophical and in-depth style of conversation worked well for Tom’s daughter Laura though. I saw her as a girl who was very talkative and passionate, very much the philosophical 70s girl who was going to university to be a playwright and actor and was going to be a star. After awhile the intense dialogue and philosophy lessens and conversations become slightly more natural though remain occasionally stiff and stilted. I never felt entirely convinced that there was a casual nature in the conversations but this perhaps could just be a result of genre.

The plot covers a short space of time, slightly longer if you included the extensive flashback in the middle, and in this space of time the development and evolution of Joe’s character is evident. Under the guise of Laura producing her play for the town we see changes in Joe, influenced by the theatre and the lessons learnt through Tom’s guidance and see him on the verge of becoming the man we are greeted with in the opening pages. He is a seemingly calm person but there is a darkness about him that gets him into trouble and as we see him change there are no quick solutions but an eagerness to try and redemption is clearly visible.

With the understanding this is a literary fiction book, which of course comes with certain tropes and expectations, some of these were a bit too prominent I found. In terms of narrative there was a lot of description, not even necessarily about certain people and their clothes which is common, but more in terms of actions. Every action was mentioned, often in extreme detail, and what could be told in a sentence was dragged out, almost tediously sometimes.

One aspect I found interesting was Laura’s play within the story. I find it rather commendable when authors include other unrelated stories within their stories, the act of creating not one workable story but another entirely different one within it is no doubt a challenge. They are also interesting to assess for quality, is it based on how good the reader thinks it is, or as we supposed to be influenced by how it is received by other characters in the book? Either way, the use of the play was a great marker as it allowed a lot of events and character developments on all sides to stem from this one event.

Overall I enjoyed the story. I understand the intention Hight was going for and the nature of the message that was trying to be conveyed, and in some respects I feel these were achieved, but overshadowed perhaps by difficult dialogue expression, over description, and maybe too little plot expansion, and quick fixes and explanations in some cases.