Short stories are deceptively brilliant. They’re quick and breezy, but you are often caught a fool because they are allusive, and it is only until you close the book that you realise why that last story left you hanging.
Tegan Bennett Daylight can’t help but flag her protagonist’s, though secretly her own, obsession with Helen Garner in ‘Six bedrooms’.
“I had pages of her work that I had typed and stuck on the wall next to my bed. I did not quite understand why I had done this; all I knew was that I was trying to get something started.”
Bennett Daylight also marvels about Garner in ‘A Phone Call to Helen Garner’, a short essay featured in The Simple Act of Reading. She shows her love of Garner’s frank, sparse prose, which highlights the importance of conversation in the act of reading. Authors, at the end of the day, are all responding to the authors they too, loved.
My own love of Garner, or Mother Helen as I like to think of her, is shown in my own compulsivity in never failing to mention her as one of my favourite writers to friends, family, work colleagues, and acquaintances. She’s good because she’s clever, she’s frank, and she will pull the ponytail of a naughty schoolgirl on Swanston Street because she’s being a little brat.
Six Bedrooms is great because Bennett Daylight is not only responding to Mother Helen, but she is answering those questions we have when we’re in adulthood, looking at teenagers and wondering, what was I doing when I was a teenager? She highlights the awkwardness of firsts; crushes, times and family illnesses. It’s a collection of uncomfortable truths, often for young girls, in everyday suburbia and domesticity.
With that in mind, Bennett Daylight writes simply but maturely. I’d definitely say anyone who appreciates short stories in this setting from the ages of 14 and above can read this collection comfortably. Bennett Daylight’s success also lies in her gentle, allusive language, which allows the reader to think about what she is suggesting. Themes of sex and death are softened not for any sort of political correctness, but to give the reader a chance to think. Have they handled this poorly? What would I have done?
I’m a sucker for good book covers too. This one reminded me of summer afternoons, cotton blankets and youth. Give Six Bedrooms a shot to learn the craft of subtlety which carefully escapes the banality of suburbia and domesticity.