ISBN 0 595 27183 9
Published by iUniverse, 2003
Retail price $11.95 (UK £9.99)
Review by Felicity Stewart
I am not a fan of short stories. Almost every time I have attempted to read a collection of them I have been
either profoundly bored or simply disinterested, as it is very difficult to hold a reader's attention and sympathies when
there is little time for plot or character development, and in all honesty, I was not expecting to enjoy this book. To my
delight, I did.
There are sixteen stories in this collection and they are uniformly excellent. My personal favourites are
Luck, Ka-ching, and The Smuggler, all of which deal with a woman, who has been or is about to be victimised
by a man, getting even. The sharpest of these is Luck, the fourth story of the collection. It is very tightly written,
and manages to be tense and funny in the space of just three pages. A nurse named Georgina is given a mysterious package,
which contains only a brick. She puzzles over this for some time, and then throws the brick out of the window. Meanwhile,
the sinister man who gave her the package is about to break into her apartment, with a view to killing her. Lavid's resolution
of this situation exemplifies the best qualities of her writing:
"His beating heart thudded as he began his ascent. In the distance a window slammed shut and suddenly, for
reasons only kismet can explain, a heavy brick pommeled his head, knocking him over the guard rail and to his precipitous
and poetic death."
This ending ties together the comic and mysterious aspects of the story, justifies its title, and delivers
a happy ending to the good person and a sticky end to the bad. The latter is true of most of the stories in the collection,
which means that Rented Rooms as a whole is a joy to read, although several of the stories have a bittersweet aftertaste.
Two of these downbeat stories in particular are worthy of mention. The first of these is The License Plate, which features
a woman only just realising that her seemingly perfect marriage is anything but, as her husband mocks the kind of intimacy
she longs for. Her painful recognition of her situation is deftly handled and quietly understated, to great effect. The second
is A Father's Love, which initially seems to be a memoir of a happy childhood, but very quickly becomes something else.
It emerges that the woman who is narrating the story was sexually abused by her father. What makes this story so affecting
is the matter-of-fact way the woman describes the gradual escalation of the abuse, culminating with the deeply unemotional
"It didn't bother me all that much, I suppose." Lavid's treatment of sensitive subjects such as these is proof of her skill
as a writer, and the fact that she can write emotive pieces like these as well as lighter tales demonstrates her range.
I only have two criticisms of this book; firstly regarding the order of the stories within it. The first
story, High Wire, is not as immediately compelling as some of the others, and it might have been better to start the
collection off with one of the more gripping stories, like the wonderful EE O NAA, which I enjoyed immensely. Also
vaguely unsatisfying was the front cover, as although the picture on the front cover of a half-open bathroom door represents
the idea central to the writing of a short story that you see a snap shot of the characters' lives very well, it is not visually
arresting and would not encourage a casual reader to pick the book up. A collection of stories as accomplished as this deserves
a superior jacket, as, contrary to good advice, people do still judge books by their covers. These minor criticisms aside,
Rented Rooms is a splendid book, and I will be very keen to see where Lavid goes from here.
Buy this book from Amazon