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Swimming With Diana Dors

by Jeremy Worman
(Cinnamon Press, 2014)

When Rose Turpin's mirror mists up, she knows that she will be visited by a spirit from beyond the grave: a friend, perhaps, or a client from days gone by. Through communion with ghosts, her past recurs as present. Whether her memory is exact, or prone to exaggeration, we do not know. Did she dine with Dylan Thomas at the Eiffel Tower? Did she get racing tips from Jeffrey Bernard? Did she really place a curse on her mother and cause her death? We will never know for sure.

The truth, or otherwise, of memory is a central thread that runs through many of the stories in this new collection by Jeremy Worman. Sometimes we misremember because we misunderstood: we did not fully comprehend what was happening at the time, because we were young, innocent, or preoccupied. Sometimes we misremember to protect ourselves: we do not want to admit our pain, our weakness, or our embarrassment. The past is a hostile country.

In 'Christmas Games' a pubescent boy struggles to cope with his father's illness, his mother's infidelities and the unwanted attentions of a middle-aged couturière. The strength of his feelings is intense, but he lacks the maturity to manage them well. He is already a little man but not yet his own master. Later, in 'After Father's Funeral', the same boy, slightly older, continues to chafe at his mother's brazenness. A sympathetic older man provides him with solace and cider.

For young men struggling to establish their identities and their independence, alcohol and drugs have always held a strong allure. In 'Susanna at Maidenhead', two teenage boys compete for Susanna's affections, first over coffee and cannabis and later over burgers and speed. The boys' needs are too deep and too complex to be satisfied by a diet of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll; and anyway, their parents intervene once things start to get out of hand.

Our failure to connect - to be at ease in the company of others - remains a problem for men long after boyhood has passed. In 'Terry', the narrator finds comfort in solitude, old glamour movies, and his sister's abandoned clothes. In 'Storm at Galesburg', while Richard is driven through a snow-storm he resists the warmth of male friendship offered by his travelling companion. Older women manage better: in 'Her Finest Hour' the ninety-one year old narrator defends her Hackney home from a power company door-stepper. One swift blow with her cast-iron poker and the hawker is gone: she knew how to connect!

Worman's short stories describe the boundaries - both physical and psychological - that separate family, friends and strangers. He tells of suspicion and of betrayal. He proffers glimpses of intimacy and the possibility of conflict resolved. As we encounter others, so we encounter ourselves. Worman mists the mirror of our memory and we wait - with bated breath - to see who has returned to haunt us.

© Mark Hannam June 2014