“I had sex with a hitchhiker down on the beach, because I couldn’t bear to take him in the caravan.”
When I started handselling deleted scenes for lovers to customers at the independent bookstore I manage, I would describe the opening story of Tracey Slaughter’s short fiction collection to customers by excitedly saying, “well, there’s this woman sleeping in the caravan that her partner committed suicide in…”
Suicide? Short Stories? Enough to put off a reader exploring any further! However, the first story, notes left on a window, is unexpectedly heartwarming and sets a strong tone for the rest of the collection. Set mostly in a caravan park, the unnamed woman leading character draws on memories of her late partner as well as modestly interacting with the park’s elderly woman custodian, who found his body. Their gentle communication is beautifully expressed by the woman’s description of the custodian,“I would have reached out and touched the ridges of her cheek or knuckles, the streaks of scalp that shone through her hair, but she was too spry.”
Slaughter was one of the first authors I turned to in a conscious endeavor to read more New Zealand fiction. Her characters are from those ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ small towns. Towns ventured to for Trade Me pick-ups, greasy fish and chip shops and spattered with New Zealand iconic ‘longest drink in town’ milkshake logos. To me, the stories immediately felt familiar while also feeling like something I’ve never read before. deleted scenes for lovers has a gothic tone, that adds sly black humor to the rich character detail, but with a voice that’s distinctly written by a woman. In fact, the Hawera woman who was recently charged with distributing nude pictures of her husband’s lover feels like she could be a character in deleted scenes for lovers.
As a reader, I was plonked into each the middle of each scene in a way that felt like the story would have unfolded whether I was there or not. It was so visceral. There is a consistent pace from story to story. I was moved along as a quiet observer through snapshots of locations and time periods and was left to piece together what had happened before I arrived.
It’s not just this narrative structure and characters that are the driving force behind deleted scenes for lovers’ success. The writing is just exquisite. Slaughter’s lush sentences swirl over your tongue. After reading descriptions like “…his little-boy lips were like meaty petals, spit tinder and far too fucken pink“, I had to immediately repeat the words aloud to someone near me. This is a familiar reaction I had whilst reading fellow Victoria University Press author, poet Hera Lindsay Bird’s collection Hera Lindsay Bird, also published in 2016.
I yearn to read more of Slaughter’s teenage characters. No story used these characters better than consent. This story resonated with me as a sadly familiar tale. It’s told purely from the young woman’s vivid and raw point of view – the yearning to be admired, the innocent inability to observe insincerity. What starts with a triple scoop orange chocolate chip ice-cream at a shop, descends into a manipulative and abusive relationship between the young woman and an older man. It’s an important story to read and reflective of a continuing conversation and growing awareness of what consent is.
Why do I love deleted scenes for lovers? Because I’ve never read anything like it before. It’s an unexpected combination of the writing style of two of my favorite authors, Steve Braunias and Miranda July. It’s the book about small town life that I’ve always wanted to read. It’s so refreshing to read New Zealand fiction like this. Also, let it be known that it’s a travesty it wasn’t shortlisted for the 2017 NZ Acorn Prize for fiction. It will be the book I buy for all of my friends.
If you read the stories all at once, this collection can feel a little one note. I recommend dipping in and out to allow each story soak into your skin.