Book Review: Forecast: Turbulence

By Paula Green

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Forecast: Turbulence by Janette Turner Hospital
HarperCollins $50

Book cover of Forecast: Turbulence. Photo / Supplied
Book cover of Forecast: Turbulence. Photo / Supplied

Jeanette Turner Hospital grew up in Australia, did post-graduate studies in Canada and has taught at universities scattered across the globe. She lives in South Carolina and teaches a course at its university. Her writing and academic status have been recognised both in her homeland and abroad.

Her latest collection of short stories, Forecast: Turbulence, reflects the experience and attachment she feels to both Australia and the United States.

The turbulence of the title keys us into the parts weather and water play, but that turbulence also works on a metaphorical level. These are stories where life gets flung against the unexpected spikes and storms of living. These are stories, that at times, set your own guts in turmoil and you wonder if you can keep reading.

The dust jacket proposes that these are stories that honour "a universal question: how can we maintain equilibrium in a turbulent and uncertain world?"

Indeed, for all the dark, the difficulties and the downright creepiness, these stories offer redeeming moments, those precious patches of light and warmth after the storm. Lives might get tossed upside down but such storms can bring people closer.

This collection is book-ended by two magnificent pieces. The first story, Blind Date, does not prepare you for the turbulence in the bulk of the book. It is exquisitely judged in terms of vivid details and crucial revelations. The barest bones of writing explode into a story that moves and haunts you. The young boy, Lachlan, matters.

Sometimes the gradual holding back doesn't seem to work as well. Whereas I fell into the world of Lachlan so willingly, on other occasions I felt manipulated.

In the title story, Forecast: Turbulence, it felt like too much bad stuff was thrown into the mix, and I couldn't believe the mother didn't warn the daughter what her absent father was going to look like.

Fathers do play a part by not being around much. They are absent, at war, in prison, domineering or needing to flee. Mothers don't fare that well either.

The characters who come to life with guts, vulnerability and verve are generally young. There is the young woman who escapes the rule of her father in his lunatic outback Republic of Outer Barcoo. There are the two girls who cut themselves, over and over, in response to the abuse they receive from others.

Hospital takes you to bleak and creepy places, but she doesn't leave you there. Broken lives, regret, loss, fragility can be rescued or countered. There are crossroads that signal hope and resilience - good paths into better futures.

The collection finishes with a slim memoir that is as much about the way memory works as it is about the death of the author's mother. The piece is complex, insightful and moving, and a pleasure to read.

Forecast: Turbulence will take you into stormy places, and it will be a matter of personal taste whether you want to go there, but when I put the book down, my resounding thought was: this woman can write.

Paula Green is an Auckland poet and children's author.

- NZ Herald

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