The setting here is a close-knit Catholic family of
“In the Garden” focuses on Marian sneaking into the wardrobe to try the dress her mother has bought for her 10th birthday. Marian’s fear of ruining the family’s surprise is evoked masterfully. Indeed, something happens and the dress gets spoiled, and Marian’s guilt unravels with all the intensity that childhood bestows.
Almost all through the collection, incidents are revealed not in chronology, but at random, so that the reader comes across the fruits of the actions first. In “The Bold, The Beautiful”, a woman returns to India from the US to tend to her mother, Grace, who is to undergo a cataract surgery. Initially, we only learn that Colleen moved to the
But all is not as it appears. Why does Colleen wince when she learns that Vanessa has sent Grace a “get well soon” greeting? Is she trying to hide something? Why has she never married? Is Vanessa more than a roommate — a lover? We don’t know for sure — yet. Then we are told that during a confession before she moved to the US, Colleen had confided in the pastor at the local church, “I am hurting my mother. I’m hurting her badly.” On being probed, she revealed, inscrutably, “I am leaving,” to which the pastor replied, simply, “That’s not a sin, my child.”
It is the unspeakable sins that hover above these stories. In the title story, an old man, Roddy, starts to see his father who has been dead for many years. Jones converts this haunting into a personal inquiry on mortality, as Roddy reflects upon the tenuous relationship he shares with his son Stephen, who is settled in the
“Half the story” takes us to Marian’s life in the
Jones is especially adept at capturing the trials of childhood. In “We Think of You Every Day”, Simon sends home painful letters that depict his harrowing loneliness at a seminary in
While the stories stand well on their own, Jones would have done well to amalgamate them into a novel. Now, she ought to contemplate a book that blends the varied, sharp contours that her first work is laced with. If her debut work is any indication, her second work, in the hope that it is a novel, will find many admirers.
This review appeared in Business Standard.