Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Delightfully Departed by TR Stoddard

‘Delightfully Departed’ is closer to an extended short story than a novella. It tells how Sally murdered her husband and ended up in a mental hospital. That's it. You don't read it for the plot but for the writing. T R Stoddard enjoys writing about murder and mental illness and she does it quite well. I did feel that I was reading an exercise in a creative writing class, rather than a piece of commercial fiction, but, at its best, the quality of the writing makes it a rewarding read. I particularly like Stoddard’s ultra-dry humour: “The biggest problem in her life was eliminated. Sure, he remained a bloody heap in the kitchen, but he was quiet.”

Stoddard has a good eye for the detail of daily life, especially viewed from a slightly warped perspective. (“The walls were painted a deep red, hardly showing the splatter under a white crown molding.”) Unfortunately, a lot of the story is in dialogue and she has no ear for this. The characters talk like people in a book. Their sentences are too carefully constructed and they go on for too long. This is just part of an extended speech from Sally to her husband just before she kills him: “I hate you. I know I said that a million times before in the course of our fights, but I'm not sure you knew I meant it. Part of me thought a love-hate relationship was okay. You hear about them all the time in the media, there wouldn't be a name for it if it weren't a thing. But I mean. I mean it with every fiber of my being.” Sally’s husband just sits and listens to this. He doesn’t interrupt. He doesn’t point out that careless sub-editing has left the word ‘it’ out after “I mean”. He doesn’t explain that regular people would say, “I know I’ve said that a million times, but you never f***ing listened,” rather than explaining carefully when they said it. He doesn't even, and after another couple of paragraphs of these rants I found myself wondering why not, just get in there and kill her first. Instead he waits for her to stab him. The death scene itself is graphically described and I found it quite convincing, although Stoddard’s enthusiasm for Grand Guignol storytelling will not be to everybody's taste.

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