Fridlund’s prose compellingly readable with nuanced observation

Rob Kidd reviews Catapult by Emily Fridlund. Published by Hachette.

Emily Fridlund raised eyebrows last year when her debut novel History of Wolves was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

After reading the novel though, it should have come as no surprise.

The atmospheric and haunting prose following a girl who lives in the icy woods thrust Fridlund on to the literary scene.

But with virtually no social media presence and little online hype about her work, it seems she is content to fly under the radar.

Catapult - a collection of 11 short stories - is similar to the novel that preceded it in the way that it takes seemingly mundane domestic settings and teases out those nuances and ambiguities that make life and people interesting.

Like a comedian specialising in observational humour, Fridlund seems to pick at the threads of society; just far more succinctly.

She sees what we see but somehow distills the normal into something poignant.

It is a rare talent.

"My wife could take your skin off with one glance, she was that excruciating," the narrator says in the first line of Expecting.

Under Fridlund’s control, words seem to take on extra weight.

The opening story looks at poor, pathetic Darrell whose wife deserts him and whose son, Kyle, appears a hopeless case.An introduction of a baby changes everything and yet changes nothing.

It is as much about what is unsaid as what is said.

In Marco Polo, the narrator Mason is so consumed by the fact his wife does not go to sleep at the same time as him, the issue transforms his view of their relationship.

He believes she is concealing something from him when in fact the story’s climax shows it is he who has the secret.

Fridlund looks at the lies we tell ourselves and the lies we tell others to paper over the cracks in relationships.

Michael meets Liv in their final year of college while living in a boarding house, in the story Old House.

As the health of their landlady Mrs Crubin deteriorates, their budding romance plummets too.

The younger Michael is desperate to somehow impress his older lover.

Like many  characters we meet, he seeks something to propel him through adversity. Too often, it appears, life is short of such naturally-occurring catapults.

This compact collection is something to treasure and re-read.

- Rob Kidd is an ODT court reporter and books editor.

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