Monday 26 June 2023

Review by Paul Taylor-McCartney of "Connective Tissue" by Jane Fraser

The short story form has received a lot of renewed interest of late, with many attributing this to our shortening attention spans, the form’s capacity for allowing authors to take stylistic risks, or the fact we can more readily squeeze a short story in and around our increasingly hectic lives. Whatever the reason, it’s encouraging that publishers – including industry heavyweights and small independents alike - are investing in it like never before. 

Jane Fraser’s Connective Tissue is a moving, thoughtful and considered collection that deftly explores what it means to be connected to others, or rather, how our disconnectedness from a shared reality can lead to a greater understanding of self. At the centre of many of the stories, are individuals who are dealing with the aftermath of some personal loss, change to their circumstances or who long to assign some greater value or meaning to their lives.

In one of the collection’s highlights, ‘After a certain age you can either have good shoes or good feet,’ a widow speaks directly to her departed husband, and hence keeps the memory of him alive: ‘You place your hand on my arm. It feels icy just as I expected a spirit would.’ The couple take to the garden lawn as if it were a dancefloor, the narrator enjoying a moment of unbridled happiness, amid so much grief. Other standout stories include ‘Connective Tissue,’ ‘Anti-clockwise on the Circle Line,’ ‘Crow’ and ‘Plenty of time, Jane,’ all of which feature strong women dealing with extreme changes in their personal fortunes. Yet it is in ‘Words,’ where Fraser’s mastery of the form is most apparent: the playful first-person narrative turns more confessional and intimate, bristling with incidental and sensory detail: ‘And that’s when I saw her, looking at me from the mirror … I sat on the edge of the bed and stretched out my hands, fingertip to fingertip with the girl in the glass.’

At times, these stories seemed so tantalisingly short I wanted Fraser to develop them further; they have the type of brevity that left me wanting more as a reader. Or maybe that is the author’s point: people drift in and out of one another’s lives, and this experience is shared both by the reader and Fraser’s cast of well-drawn and recognisable characters, each of her creations edging forward into the light to impart some nugget of advice. Fraser’s skill is considerable in that she not only persuades the reader to listen with interest, but more closely.    

About the reviewer
Dr. Paul Taylor-McCartney is an author, researcher and lecturer, with interests in dystopian studies, children’s literature and initial teacher education. His poetry, short fiction and academic articles have appeared in a range of notable UK and international publications including Aesthetica, The Birmingham Journal of Language and Literature, Writing in Practice (National Association of Writers in Education), Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine and Dyst: A literary Journal. He lives and works in Cornwall. You can find out more about him and his work by visiting his website here

You can read more about Connective Tissue by Jane Fraser on Creative Writing at Leicester here.  

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