The White Road by Tania Hershman

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The White Road by Tania Hershman

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: An intriguing and brilliant first collection of short (and I mean short) stories. There is a lovely ability to find the personal within the global fact of life.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 144 Date: September 2008
Publisher: Salt Publishing
ISBN: 978-1844714759

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A female café owner situated in a very strange place breaks the mundane routine with a very strange act. A female loses sight of her life's goals due to having a husband and children, and finds a strange way of reconnecting with her interests. And females on first dates do strange things – to levers in zero-G, and with pottery.

But before I go over the top, let me assure you that what small sense there is of the strange in these many short stories is instantly quashed by the strong sense of a writer grounded firmly in reality, and finding big truths in amongst the little details of life.

Much has been made of the author prodding at the world of science in inspiration for her stories here. I think that might actually have put many people off a brilliant little volume. Hershman does give us a couple of lines' quote regarding some sort of scientific detail or fact for the more substantial works herein, but so often the story would work without it. There are only a couple of these tales that could be called science fiction.

And to sign off on my first paragraph, there is normality here in abundance too – a pregnant woman has practically her worst fear realised, another woman is forced to give up her pound of flesh to get what she wants, and yet another woman finds a life-change within the act of buying some improving shoes.

So I now have to let you know this is not a feminist book, nor strictly about nor for females. It might read like that for some time – especially as the first male protagonist is dealt with such a scathing sense of humour, but there is a breadth to the characters just as there is to setting, theme, approach – in fact, everything.

There are small links and connections between some of the stories that can be found, if one wants to look for them, but on the whole the book is tempered by the author's excellent ability to bring the global down to a personal level. What is life but for us responding to human biology, the weather, the spirit and energy of the world? That's exactly what Hershman has done, and what she makes her characters do.

The fact that this little volume packs so many stories in is the last notable side to it. Several of these stories are little tales in microcosm – I think one deals with the sexual awakening of yet another woman in about a hundred words, in an incredibly poetic manner. Quite a few take no time at all to read, and even the longest, at eighteen whole pages, gusts forth with a very likeable (and amenable) first-person narration and a thriller styling. You find yourself unable to ration the stories, as their brevity makes this a real page-turner. Still, with twenty seven fictions here, it is excellent value.

It all goes to show Hershman as a most excellent communicator – and her prior career in science journalism can only partly explain the very fine way she conveys what she does, while the stories vary so, and approach their characters and subjects with individuality. So often have first collections of short stories stuck too closely to the author's interests, life, background – here the form soars in a most competent way, and shows our author can touch on autobiography (Express) yet equally well diversify beyond what the reader could seriously have hoped.

OK, a couple of the works here were only worth four stars individually, but this collection is one of those rare instances of a sustained brilliance, introducing to me a true artist with a high degree of quality control. I will be eagerly looking for more published works from her – of any length.

We at the Bookbag are very grateful for the author herself sending us a review copy.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy A Certain Age by Lynne Truss.

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