Perfect Lives, by Polly Samson
No life is perfect without a few secrets swept under the rug, and this is the part of these perfect lives that Polly Samson takes us to, the cracks beneath the veneer. Samson builds an affluent seaside town for her characters, hippies, artists, businessmen, stay-at-home mums, sprinkling them across the town, physically and socially.
The stories are short and not downhearted, despite the serious nature of some of them. Samson manages to avoid the heavy, too quirky tone that a lot of short story collections can take, relying on her stories and her writing to engage readers.Samson clearly loves her characters, and loves dropping little hints into other stories about other characters, particularly tweaking their personas to the reader by presenting different views of them. A well-cared for, well-rounded girl on the edge of puberty becomes a beloved babysitter and object of lust in another story. The golden girl used to measure her sister’s inadequacies by their mother is a harried new mother, struggling to adapt to her new role as a mother and life as a farm wife. Samson seems to know her town inside-out, knowing the full lives of all of the characters, which roads will take you passed their houses, and if they know their own interconnectedness. Especially close to her heart seems to be the family of Simon, Ivan, Angus and their mother, with all of their internal dramas and adventures the focus of several stories in the collection.
Motherhood plays a big role in this book, relationships of inadequacy from mothers and mothers-in-law, a new mother grappling with adjusting to her baby, a mother compares with her own mother’s strict parenting-style with the indulgent grandma she has become. Samson covers every side of a mother-child relationship, and even throws in the story of a father saying hello to his daughter as he says goodbye to his mother. The stories stick with you and I’ve gone back to re-read several of them.
I’m sure that Samson will return to her seaside community, that this book is only a taster for some people and stories that we will get to see in-depth and in detail. And I’m already looking forward to it!