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March 14, 2014

Review – The Gate Theory by Kaaron Warren – AWWC14

This is my first review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.

I get the idea, reading the five stories in Kaaron Warren’s 2013 collection The Gate Theory, that Kaaron might not quite see the world the way other people do. In these stories in particular, she seems drawn to broken characters who don’t seem to know how – or perhaps whether – to fit in.

The stories often seem to be about one thing before wandering off in an unexpected direction like an easily distracted burglar going through linen closets instead of a safe. And stories that feel safe if a little strange at the outset take weird and usually unpleasant turns, leading away from examinations of the lives (or post-lives) of characters somewhere near the fringes of society and pushing into genuine darkness. Outright gore is not often more than hinted at, but the horror is always there, coming into sharp focus as the characters stray out beyond their depths.

In ‘Purity’, Therese lives in squalor with her mother and brother, neglected physically and emotionally, which leads her into the embrace of a group with some very unusual habits.  ‘That Girl’ a Fijian ghost story, turns an unblinkingly critical eye from its white Australian cultural tourist protagonist to sinister undercurrents in the Fijian social order. ‘Dead Sea Fruit’ is a supremely creepy story that begins with the dental hygiene and shared mythologies of girls with eating disorders and gets more horrifying from there.

‘The History Thief’ is the only story in the collection whose supernatural element is evident from the beginning: protagonist Alvin death leads him to the discovery that he has not, as he thought, lived a particularly worthwhile life. He discovers he has the power to connect with people and make a meaningful difference, but dealing with people means dealing with their very nasty secrets. Finally ‘The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfall’ returns to Fiji for a cryptozoological expedition that gets out of hand.

These are five extraordinary stories, though I will confess I didn’t particularly care for ‘Purity’. Warren’s prose is beautiful, imbuing the ordinary with grandeur and horror in equal parts. Her flawed characters never quite register the moments that seal their fates, and Warren is content to quietly watch them amble off into horror and doom.

Somehow I can even see her holding the door open for them.

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