In The Smokehouse, Melissa Manning provides eleven short stories. This debut collection of intertwined stories showcases the skills of the author. A lawyer, Manning grew up in Tasmania and now lives in Victoria. Each of the stories reads well, either alone or as part of the whole. In addition, the first and last can be read as a single narrative with a haunting theme of love and disappointment.
Structure of The Smokehouse
In the initial story, Tom and Nora move with their two children to Kettering, near Hobart. They hope the move will shore up their tottering marriage. They build a house overlooking the sea. Tom continues to work and to travel interstate and the girls soon settle into their new school. With no work outside her home and without routine and regular occupation, Nora finds settling hard although she is befriended by members of the community. Then she meets her neighbour Ollie, owner of the Smokehouse of the title. They form a relationship.
The final story in the collection reintroduces Nora and Ollie years later. By then he suffers from a neurodegenerative disease. The happy life they have woven together unravels as Nora cares for him. She remembers, too late, that she has never learned to use the smokehouse.
These two stories create a deeply satisfying, emotional reading experience. From them, the other stories in the collection derive their own special meanings. At the same time, the two stories which bookend the collection also gain depth and emotional intensity.
In the other stories, other characters who people the first and last stories become protagonist. The reader recognises and relates to them as their lives intersect in different ways. Each character experiences transformation of one kind or another.
Stories of place in The Smokehouse
The stories are mostly set in the seaside town of Kettering, opposite Bruny Island. However, the landscape in each of the stories impacts on the characters in different ways. The setting often influences the things they value. Landscape also changes their experiences.
Some of the places in the stories recur. For example, the local shop and the Bruny Island Ferry appear in several stories.
Thoughts about short stories
Reading The Smokehouse reminded me of the late Western Australian writer and academic, Veronica Brady, IBVM. Sr. Veronica likened a collection of short stories to paintings hanging in a gallery. While each can stand alone, a well-curated collection creates its own special ambience. This collection conforms to her description
I’ve written about the pleasure that can be achieved through reading short stories. You can read it at Short stories as art and craft. I’ve also reviewed a collection of short stories, Common people by Tony Birch – a review.
This book would make an excellent book club choice. You can find a list of questions already prepared by the publisher here.
Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021
This review is part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers Challenge, 2021.