Okay, I realize I'm pushing Winton's books so hard you'd think I was getting a commission. I'm not, they are just THAT good. I promise, this is the last one for a bit, just so I can slow down and savor them. I have a few I will keep shelved a few weeks. For one thing, I need a refresher course on Australian history before I read anymore.
So, The Turning. It's a collection of short stories that at first seemed bewildering. The stories would unwind, a character would develop, and then it was over. It wasn't until several stories in did I realize that the characters would return, at different points in their lives. Vic is introduced as a child, later as a teen, an adult man, and finally a dying man. He and his family have little vignettes about them, nothing too obvious, just bits and pieces that make up a whole. People they meet show up in another story. A seemingly meaningless interaction takes greater signficance when told by a different narrator. By the end, you are addicted.
The main theme is about how events in childhood and adolescence shape us our whole lives. And not the big "prom" style events, but the little secrets, the overheard conversations, the random details that have meaning as one grows older.
I never really cared for the concept of childhood shaping us. I've never had patience for ones who try and use a bad childhood as an excuse for their poor lives now. I've always resented the whiners that complain their parents didn't do enough for them. Perhaps, in hindsight from the events of the last year or so in my adult life, I'm realizing that maybe that was denial on my part; not wanting to admit that I, too, have been deeply affected by events as a child. As a parent, it's even more scary to realize that events that may be out of our control can trouble our children to the point that their future trust, relationships, and faith can be tainted.
Anyway, a key paragraph in one story sums up this theme from the whole collection, from the story "Defender" and the character is Gail speaking to her husband Vic:
"Do you realize that every vivid experience in your life comes from your adolescence? You should hear yourself talk. You're trapped in it. Nothing you do now holds your attention like the past. Not me, not even your work, these days. I feel like...I'm just part of some long, faded epilogue to your real life."
Throughout the book we've come to see everything about Vic, but still have to imagine what the key to Vic's unravelling was. Winton doesn't make it easy or draw it out in crayon. You really have to let your mind ponder it to get what may be the key to his circumstances.
A couple other phrases caught my eye:
"It's a problem...a curse. You can't compensate for everyone all of your life. In the end you have to demand something of people." from "Defender".
"Family...It's not a word, it's a sentence." from "Reunion".
This is a fairly quick read. If anything I recommend taking a few notes along the way about each character you meet, just to keep track. I almost wanted to draw a family tree but it was too late in the book to bother. Enjoy!