Given my not-so-new-found delight in short stories I was keen to read Janice Galloway’s Jellyfish having enjoyed both her memoirs and The Trick is to Keep Breathing. Galloway prefaces her collection with David Lodge’s assertion that literature is mostly about having sex and not much about having children; life’s the other way round. With its themes of parenthood, relationships, death and loss as well as sexuality and desire, Jellyfish is her response. Comprising sixteen stories, it’s a reissue of a collection first published by Freight Books with the addition of two new pieces: ‘Peak’ and ‘Gold’
Galloway’s stories range in length from the two-page celebration of male beauty and desire ‘Looking at You’ to ‘Gold’ which stretches over fifty pages charting a woman’s quiet, solitary life which takes a surprising turn after sharing her admiration of a Chagall with a stranger, then another when a camping trip with a friend is interrupted. ‘That Was Then, This Is Now (1)’ in which lust is coupled with ignorance is laced with the mordant humour running through several of these pieces, at its darkest in ‘Burning Love’ which sees revenge prove lethal. In ‘Peak’ a psychiatrist finds herself faced with an unusual request on a second date and is surprised at how much she enjoys herself while ‘Greek’ sees a woman make a drastic choice when she realises she’s pregnant by her hedonistic lover. Galloway bookends her collection with two stories about parenthood beginning with the titular piece in which a mother takes her carefully raised four-year-old on a day out, knowing that he’ll soon be exposed to all manner of influences other than hers, and ending with ‘Distance’ in which a child’s fall sparks a fear of just about everything in his mother leading to a radical solution at great emotional cost to herself.
Part of the joy of these stories is Galloway’s writing. I could stuff this review full of quotes but I’ll keep it to just a few favourites:
His skin didn’t crease, she thought. Whatever he did with his face, it unfolded again smooth as soap (Jellyfish)
Murray needed the freedom to flit in and out of lives as though they were incidental train platforms between his journey to himself (Fine Day)
The Guggenheim was made in bright white slices, an unmissable space-ship of a building parked off-road for the afternoon (Gold)
If she thought I’d forgotten about the shed, she had another think coming. I’d poke her fucking shed-sheltered library with a poker and burn it to funerary ash (Burning Love)
In her acknowledgments, Galloway graciously thanks her publishers noting that:
Publishers are shy of short stories in the here and now, shy like people are shy of three-legged puppies, which is to say they’d love to give them a home, but are nervous of their apparent handicap in that they are not novels.
What a lovely way to end this thoroughly enjoyable, thoughtful, wryly amusing yet often poignant collection.