“the land was in her blood”
The South Westerlies, by Jane Fraser, is a collection of eighteen short stories mostly set in and around the Gower area of South Wales. The land is depicted as windswept and often damp. Family roots run deep although some branches long for an escape.
Each tale stands alone yet there are suggestions that the cast of characters interweaves. Many in the community have familiar names. Places feature in numerous tales.
The farming families have tended the land for generations. Young men who take on their father’s farms look for wives who, like their mothers, will have dinner on the table at a set time whilst raising sons to ensure a continuum.
“Gower born and Gower bred
Strong of arm and good in bed”
The farmers’ teenage daughters accept as husbands the sons of neighbouring farmers – those suggested by their parents. They feel complimented when described as “good breeding stock”. They consider with satisfaction the agricultural acres joined by such marriages. Later in life these women ponder their lot. Stories included tell of widows who do not mourn the loss of husbands who demanded that they “put up and shut up”.
Other stories introduce young people who left the area to build lives elsewhere. They return to visit embittered parents, still critical of the strengths shown that enabled their offspring’s escape. School friends who stayed – met up with again after many years – conjure memories and thoughts of what might have been. Severing from a root may not eradicate it.
There is much grief in the tales: longed for children who were never born; children lost young whose shadows forever weaken sunbeams of happiness.
Within families there is blame and resentment. Men try to control wifely behaviour. Parents complain of their grown children’s choices and distance. Friends ponder what they have missed by letting time drift.
In Look What the Wind’s Blown In a young couple try to help an increasingly infirm elderly parent. The old man wants his daughter-in-law to look after him as his wife once did. When more practical alternatives are offered there is an impasse.
In Search of the Perfect Wave introduces a surfer’s consuming need to chase the perfect wave. In this and other stories, unhappiness exists when a character cannot find the strength to insist that their needs are considered. Desires are individual and rarely transferable.
This is the Boat that Dad Built is a moving account of a family man who tries his best and, for one summer, succeeds. It offers a reminder that happiness is hard to bestow without willing acceptance from a recipient. Individuals cannot be all things to all people.
The stories are often bleak yet the sense of place evoked is one of dark beauty and an innate affinity. The writing is polished but also affecting with each story harbouring nuance and depth. This is a recommended read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Salt.