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Silent CruiseReview - Silent Cruise
A Novella and Stories
by Timothy Taylor
Counterpoint, 2002
Review by Tony O'Brien M Phil.
Nov 19th 2004 (Volume 8, Issue 47)

Silent Cruise is a collection of eight short stories and a novella from award-winning Canadian writer Timothy Taylor. The stories are sharp and acutely observed; the novella intriguing. As a collection they present an array of characters and situations, complex relationships, and some of the more finely crafted stories you are likely to encounter. Taylor does not settle for easy solutions to the problems his characters face. In fact there are no solutions at all, just situations that change, often in ways the characters, and the reader, would not predict. There is no sense that Taylor forces the direction of the narrative or manufactures coincidences for the purpose of rounding off a plot. Even unlikely outcomes are rendered natural, such is the skill of Taylor's writing.

Even in such a wonderful collection, some stories stand out. This is to some extent a matter of personal preference, but there are a few stories that are simply superb. 'Doves of Townsend' tells the story of Clare, an antiques collector following in the tradition of her father, and drawn to Mr. Galbraith, a contemporary of her late father's. The mutual attraction is beautifully played out. Where Galbraith's maneuvering would be cynical or clumsy in the hands of a lesser writer, with Taylor it has a warmth, even an innocence, that leaves us in sympathy with both characters, and enchanted by the intertwining of their lives. 'Smoke's Fortune' is the shortest story in the book, but its brevity underscores Taylor's capacity to provide a window into the lives of his characters. Hunting a dog in a field of wrecked cars may seem an improbable context in which to reveal the humanity of a couple of adolescent boys, but Taylor weaves such a deft narrative that you wonder if it could be done better in any other setting. In 'Pope's Own' the quest to purchase a desirable Irish cheese business becomes a tale of intrigue and complex relationships, not to mention an absorbing account of how a specialty cheese is made. 'Francisco's Watch' uses a family heirloom to follow an episode in the life of an artist who gains long-sought recognition only to lose something more precious. The protagonist of 'Prayers to Buxtehude' is no less unfortunate, losing love while living his dream.

'NewStart' is an absorbing novella in which lives diverge, follow wildly different paths, then reconverge. There is a compelling mystery that drives this story, and Taylor shows that this genre need not be limited to contrived plots and cartoon characters.

Taylor is adept in interweaving themes in his stories. There are always multiple issues at stake, and the working out of one allows the unfolding of another. The characters are real people; they can be imagined in your sitting room, in the cafť or bar you visit, in a shop in your shopping precinct. The stories leave their lives being lived; we are interested in their futures, even if we have little idea what that might hold.

Taylor appears to be a meticulous researcher, or at least to have an in depth knowledge of such things as food, painting, and information technology. There are recipes, foods, tastes and smells in this book that make you think it could have been written in a delicatessen. Insights from the visual arts add a texture to the stories, especially NewStart. And most readers will have to take Taylor's word for the accuracy of the account of the possibilities of the Internet. At times I could have done with less detail. I felt that stories like 'Smoke's Fortune' and 'Doves of Townsend', which owed the least to research, were the stronger for it. The situations were more empathic, the dialogue more recognizable; the stories more securely set in the world we all know, even while revealing it anew. To paraphrase NewStart's Capri's description of Roman pasta, you cannot imagine these stories having any less in them, but you wouldn't want to disturb the narrative by adding more.

I enjoyed this book a lot. I found it engaging, entertaining and with that rare quality of providing credible insights into lives and situations that I would not otherwise experience. The characters come alive on the page; the dialogue is clean and crisp. A highly recommended read.

 

© 2004 Tony O'Brien

 

 

Tony O'Brien M Phil., Lecturer, Mental Health Nursing, University of Auckland


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