New Zealand author D.M. Jones refers to this collection as “light reading, meant to entertain,” and these stories and play fulfill, and exceed, that promise. She may well turn out to be New Zealand’s answer to Britain’s Helen Simpson.
Conversation and interior monologues that track alongside it are vividly real in these stories. In “The Drought,” for example, Bronnie’s marriage to Tim has hit a dry spell and her friend Annie recommends having children as a way to prioritize. “As Annie had done, so Bronnie should do; she (Bronnie) wondered at the general readiness to offer oneself as paradigm.”
Jones is a retired journalist, and “The Lonely Hunter” captures the claustrophobic hum of a newspaper office in a story about the contractions and expansions of a family. Ruthie’s failing marriage and her daughter’s wedding contrast with the social intimacies and crass nicknames she shared with her coworkers. The story is both sad and sharply witty, as when one sister treats another “like a hole in the air: something to be skirted around.” There are further echoes of Simpson here and in “Finding Isis” and “A Fairy Story,” all contemporary tales with women finding their place in shifting landscapes.
Jones also includes an old-fashioned murder mystery, a beefy bit of researched historical fiction set during the English Civil War of 1641, and a short horror story with echoes of Ray Bradbury. Each is true to the genre it represents, and all are sharply observed.
The play is a brief, two-act piece set in ancient Rome. Readers may feel it is out of place among the short stories. Should Jones narrow her focus to contemporary stories and eliminate the other genre pieces, she would make her work more marketable – and surely become a force to be reckoned with. 7 Stories and a Play introduces a talent we hope to hear more from in the future.
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