I don’t read short stories much as a rule, but I’ve started to think that maybe I should. It’s a form that I’ve often struggled with- I was never very good at writing them in school and I never really saw the point of them; I always wanted the complete landscape of a novel, rather than the snapshots offered by short stories.
But I’ve recently started writing short stories for my own amusement and this means I have to read more of them so that I understand them better- and what better way to begin than reading a collection of short stories about women who loved bad men? And these are not just run-of-the-mill bad men. These are household name bad men: serial killers, dictators, cult leaders. Some of the women are household names in themselves- Eva Braun, Myra Hindley, Karla Homolka. Some are better known as the wife- of Clyde Barrow (of Bonnie and…)’s brother, of the man who kidnapped Elizabeth Smart, of Jim Jones.
What this collection of short stories does is explore the psyche of each woman. In some case, her identity is so wrapped up in that of her ‘bad man’ that she is part of him; in others, she is a force to be reckoned with on her own. Each woman’s voice is clear (although I did cringe a bit, as someone familiar with the language and dialect of Manchester and northern working class people in general, at the author’s attempts to re-create this on the page. There were just bits that didn’t quite ring true.) What this collection does very well is to peel back the layers of each of these women, past the public’s perception of each one as a monster, victim, accomplice and try to explore who she is and why she makes the decisions she does. It’s not wholly convincing, but it is interesting, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable at times- and that’s not a bad thing at all. There’s never a sense that the author is glorifying these women. I also wonder if, as an Australian, she has a distance from these women that you might not have as, say, someone who grew up in the shadows of the Moors Murders in Lancashire and Yorkshire, or Germany in the latter half of the Twentieth Century, and so there is a freeness in writing about these women that might not otherwise be there.
It’s an interesting collection and one that deserves a wide audience- the change in tone and use of language for each character is interesting and a good study of how to link short stories together under a theme. I enjoyed it very much and, maybe, it has gone some way to changing my mind about how I view short story collections.