The Settling Earth: A Collection of Short Stories by Rebecca Burns
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Paperback, 128 pages
Published December 16th, 2014 by Odyssey Books
A lyrical, poignant collection of interrelated stories of pioneer life in New Zealand. Each tells it's own finite story but combined they present a dark, lonely tale of a community of people living within reach of Christchurch, the nearest town. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection.
1. A Pickled Egg (2008) - A woman ponders upon how she came to be in this new country so unlike the old as she occasionally pats her stomach. Nothing happens but sets a lovely scene and a good beginning to the collection. (3/5)
2. Mr. William Sanderson Strikes for Home (2009) - A man is walking home from visiting a brothel and has been provoked into bringing a Maori with him. Mr. Sanderson'sthoughts are quite vehemently racist against the native as they walk towards his home and things turn nasty when the Maori dares to mention from whence they met. Near the end, we are given the hint that this man is the husband of the woman from the first story. Well-written and infused with a heavy atmosphere. I'm intrigued. (4/5)
3. Miss Swainson's Girl (2009)- Back to the boardinghouse and to a girl briefly mentioned in the previous story. Her story of how she came to be here is told in all its tragedy and her current life takes a turn for the worse. Intense and emotional. (5/5)
4. Dottie - A very slight mention in the previous story brings us to this home. A baby farm. A terrible, dark story of fallen women, societal conventions, the inability of man to forgive sins and finally saving grace. Haunting. (5/5)
5. Port and Oranges - Very interesting! We are back to the boarding house and a character study of the madam, Miss Swainson, of her background and how she came to be here in New Zealand and in this position. At this point two new characters emerge and there is the promise of the beginning of a story yet to tell, but at the same time, if it is not revisited one can make an assumption as to how this thread would have proceeded. (5/5)
At this point, I find myself very taken with the stories. Each seems to be a character study of a different person. There are small connections between some of the people, thus pulling the stories together in a cohesive unit. Onward!
6. Tenderness - We have to go back to story 4 to recall the character focused on in this story. We know nothing about her and this character study focuses on her pov, emotions and state of mind. In the end, it manages to tell us a bit more of what happened after story four but overall, I felt no connection to this character and the story was a bit of a drudge.(2/5)
7. Dressed for the funeral - This is the longest story so far, but a very quick read. We meet a new character, Phillipa (Pip) and for the first half of the story the entire events of a funeral and Pip's reminiscences are completely fresh to this collection. Then half-way through Pip overhears a group of women talking about the discovery of the baby farm in story 4. Here the story takes an anxious turn and the plight of women wanting a career during this era is explored. Emotional and compelling. (5/5)
8. Ink and Red Lace - A disturbing and dark story with no connection to the others except for the barest hint of the red lace. Set out on a ranch the atmosphere matches the tone. Excellent. My favorite in the collection so far! (5/5)
9. The Beast - This takes the husband from the last story back to his childhood and we learn the reason for some of his ways. It also has some mythical elements. OK (3/5)
10. Balance by Shelly Davies - This final story is written by a different author to give the Maori point of view and nicely brings the book full circle. We hearken back to story 2 and Mr. Sanderson and the Maori man, Haimona, arrive at the Sanderson's. Hans from the last story is here as well. As things play out Haimona's thoughts tell us what he thinks of these white people, how he interprets their proprieties and actions that are purely show and yet at the same time he wants the luxury they live in. Answers some questions left hanging in the other stories and wraps the collection up on a fine note. (4/5)