Small Displacements Nails Turning Points in Characters’ Lives

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Small Displacements

Review by Donna Meredith

     When I was given Vanessa Furse Jackson’s short story collection Small Displacements, I almost sent it back. I’m glad I didn’t. I don’t often warm up to short stories the way I do to novels, perhaps because I don’t get to spend enough time with the characters to know them like real people. But Jackson’s collection paints muscle, fat, and skin onto characters’ skeletons. By the time you finish reading a story, the characters feel as solid as your next-door neighbors.

     In “Wild Dogs,” Jackson spins an engrossing tale centered around the jealous rivalries within a group of young teens, the confusion spurred by the awakening of interest in the opposite sex, and their failure to foresee the enormous consequences of vengeful gossip they spread. The portrayal of children on the verge of adolescence with their intense need to belong and establish their positions within the peer group was exquisitely rendered.

     In the story “Rain,” Jackson gives us Bella, an insecure wife who wants to possess her husband completely, to consume all his time. An old man in a cemetery tells Bella, “You got to care for him, not just care that he cares for you.” The line illuminates the self-centeredness of so many relationships that fail to blossom from lust into agape.

     Jackson creates a similar character, Gemma, in “Before the Fall.” Gemma is a wife insecure in her marriage, a woman who wants her husband to “be somehow different, more attuned,” and she feels she remains “outsider her family.” Her sister warns her not to probe her marriage to death. She advises Gemma to “just be here” in the moment.

     In the story “Consequences,” a wife, Anna, is angry when her husband Hal invites his brother along on what she assumed was going to be a romantic get-away, a last chance to save their marriage. Instead, Anna finds herself in the brother-in-law’s arms, more confused about her marriage than ever. As the story ends, Hal promises Anna he won’t shut her out anymore and she promises him she will always tell him the truth, and we are certain they both are lying.

     Other stories—“The Clinic,” about a girl running away from an abortion; and “A Nice Day Out,” about an elderly man whose hike turns out to be more than he expected—capture people at turning points in their lives, at moments when the past is displaced by the future.

     Certainly the title story’s displacement is anything but small. Susanna is giving up her home to her son and daughter-in-law and moving into a “granny flat.” She is digging up her plants and her son advises her “they won’t survive the move.” We wonder if Susanna, too, will survive, since she has never wanted to live anywhere but in this house where she was born. In time, she recognizes how unwelcoming she has been to her son and his family. Even though she initiated their moving in to rescue her from a financial mess, it doesn’t make her exile “from the land of the young” much easier.

     Small Displacements is Jackson’s second collection of stories. Her first was What I Cannot Say to You. She has also published a book about her great grandfather, The Poetry of Henry Newbolt: Patriotism is Not Enough. The author was born in England but has resided in the United States for over twenty years with her husband. She currently teaches English at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

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