Expelling the Dust
I read this collection for my book club, focusing on the story ‘The Man on the Stairs’ so my thoughts on this are followed by a broader reflection on the collection:
The Man on the Stairs is an extended snapshot in a woman’s life, in which a familiar (July gives it a tired, worn out feeling, like the T-shirt the woman is wearing, doubtless ugly and shapeless, unloved, a stultifying comfort-zone) sequence of introspection culminates in an encounter that takes on a mythical (as a focus for culturally cultivated fears and a seed of exasperated, unheroic (profoundly female) courage) and symbolic (of the emotional subjugation of women). It ends with what I felt was a victory, but one so bitter and compromised that I sobbed reading it, when the woman ‘expel[s] the dust of everything’ this subjugation has caused her to destroy in herself, and orders the phantom, the great unintentional criminal ‘out of my house’. She can only muster a whisper, but we have to start somewhere.
I cannot agree with reviewers who found July’s stories ‘laugh out loud funny’; I am horrified by the thought of someone laughing at the plights of her painfully unhappy protagonists. July’s language stutters and chokes as each internal monologue unfolds its ugly revelations, almost as if recoiling in disgust.
Loneliness, insecurity and ineptitude are the prominent features of adulthood here, and encounters that allow the narrators to offer care or fellowship to a child emphasise a contrast with their interactions with ‘normal’ people who treat them with varying degrees of disdain and disinterest. I don’t think July invites laughter, rather that she is tenderly drawing out poison from a wound so deep it contaminates all of our interactions.
Attempts to seek refuge and refreshment in the joyous diversions (in the sense of randomness and original thinking, an escape from the stale frameworks of normalised communication) of innocence are limited and compromised, and the grains of hope they contain are sometimes dashed, but there is the shadow of a feeling, maybe even a furious whisper, that things don’t have to be this way.