Dance Move by Wendy Erskine: Quiet brilliance

Cover image for Dance Move by Wendy Erskine I read the Stinging Fly Press edition of Wendy Erskine’s Sweet Home a while ago mainly because I’ve yet to read anything published by them that hasn’t impressed. I enjoyed its quiet stories of everyday people very much which is what made me put up my hand for Dance Move and it didn’t disappoint. I’ve tried to limit myself to a few favourites from its ten stories but it wasn’t an easy task

She had a basic face, as if someone in a hurry had drawn quick features on a pebble

It begins with Mathematics which sees a cleaner open the door of a room in a party house to find an abandoned child and a new purpose in life. In His Mother, a woman sets about removing posters of her son, put up in the hope of finding him, and is brought up short by the prospect of another’s misery. Max is somewhat dismissive of the woman he’s been asked to give a lift to the film festival he’s helped arrange but it’s Gloria who’s the one who knows what to do in an emergency in Gloria and Max. Nostalgie see a middle-aged man, once a minor success as a singer, agreeing to sing a particular song in Belfast intrigued as to why it’s been requested then wishing he hadn’t. The longest story, the cleverly named Cell, is about a bright, painfully shy young woman who becomes caught up in what she thinks of as a communist collective, sentencing herself to a lifetime of exploitation and collusion.

Gloria paused. If you don’t know whether you’re coming in or out of Carrick, there’s not a lot of hope for you, she said  

Erskine’s stories are snapshots of ordinary, everyday lives in which characters are often faced with a crisis or decision that jolts them, sometimes leaving them irrevocably changed. Their backstories are carefully sketched in so that we come to understand how they’ve come to be the person they are. Erskine’s writing is understated, even when her protagonists’ lives are disrupted by dramatic events. Many of her stories are shot through with a humour that raises a wry smile. There’s a particularly nice moment at a book launch for an author called Wendy whose friends all bought the book ‘dutifully’, while agreeing that ‘they didn’t read short stories, or even like them all that much’. Quiet stories, unflashy in their brilliance, they make an impression that deepens as they sink in. I found myself thinking about several of them days after I’d read them.

Erskine’s collection is the fourth strikingly accomplished book by a woman Irish writer I’ve read this year, following on from The Raptures, The Colony and How to Gut a Fish. Cathy at 746Books kicked off Reading Ireland Month 2022 this week and I’m hoping to discover a few more.

Picador: London 9781529079678 224 pages Hardback

15 thoughts on “Dance Move by Wendy Erskine: Quiet brilliance”

  1. Nice review, I also smiled at the little Hitchcockian cameo. I wish more writers did that. Even a month later, I still think about some of the characters.

    1. Thank you! Extraordinarily good writing and that moment at the launch was particularly lovely. I might have made a ‘dutiful’ purchase, myself, in the days before I became a short story convert!

  2. Ooh lovely, these sound like such good stories. A great choice for read Ireland month. A really good collection of stories is a real treat, I often find I have to gobble them up.

  3. Ohh, poor Wendy. I wonder if she really wouldn’t rather that her friends NOT buy her collection of short stories. One really doesn’t enjoy feeling misunderstood or undervalued. 🙁 But, then, she’s fictional, so there’s that.

Leave a comment ...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: