In her award-winning third collection of fiction, Love Stories for Hectic People, Catherine McNamara explores love in its violent, obsessive and erotically complex forms, writes Suzannah Ball.
Catherine McNamara’s new short story collection, Love Stories for Hectic People (Reflex Press), is innately and refreshingly human, as it explores love in all of its violent, self-obsessed and understandable forms. I marvelled at McNamara’s ability to make the ordinary appear new in the most inspiring ways. Love is an intrinsic aspect of our lives, motivating us every single day to continue: kind word from a friend or a colleague can go a long way, but outside of that, humanity’s quest for love has become so mundane, with our apps and dating shows, that upon reading McNamara’s stories, I felt new life spring into my own everyday interactions and ruminations. No longer did I see fruit as one of my five a day: an apple became a succulent teaser for my next meal, and I found myself savouring every aspect of it, even becoming regretful when I popped its core into the bin.
Growing up in Australia, moving to Paris, running a bar in West-Africa and now residing in Italy, McNamara’s writing is wonderfully dispersed throughout the world, and she indeed has enough life experience to do each element of the lives she explores justice. Love Stories for Hectic People, for the most part, takes inspiration from the Italian countryside, its warm climate and capacity for skiing, and the recurring Peggy Guggenheim museum. But regardless of where the story is situated, each paragraph and page is deeply obsessed with the instinctively human, the universality of love and all that comes with it. There is also an underlying maturity residing throughout, and I believe it is because of this that McNamara is able to capture so much using so little. Indeed, some of her stories are a mere paragraph long, but their length, or lack of it, instead contributes to their effect.
In ‘The Things You Will Never Know About Your Lover’ there is no need to dwell. The reader takes a glimpse into a lover losing their love as he boards a plane. The brief loss is tangible, the rhetorical questions are pleading but reside in the knowledge that there will never be an answer, regardless of the asking. The paragraph and one-line long story captures a moment that feels knowing, but still woeful – any extra addition of prose would damage the clarity of unknowing so clearly demonstrated.
McNamara’s previous works, The Cartography of Others (Unbound) and Pelt and Other Stories (Indigo Dreams), have reached great critical acclaim, even receiving praise from Hilary Mantel, but Love Stories for Hectic People packs no less powerful a punch. McNamara’s imagery is at once visceral and subdued; she seamlessly flits from a reflective insular piece in ‘As Simple as Water’ to the brief but juicy and baroque ‘Foundation Song’. Each story is filled with intricacies, and I was left researching the job of Egyptologist after finishing ‘Genitalia’, finding myself completely intrigued by a profession so unlike my own because of McNamara’s ability to delve into such fascinating topics with ease. In the same story, McNamara also beautifully dips into the powers and realities of menstruation in a way unlike I have ever read before, and indeed believe very little writers have previously had the tenacity to do so in such an honest, yet unbothered, way.
Even with the quick pace of the collection, I was not left feeling jarred by the minimal space between stories, the lack of breath. Throughout, they felt interconnected – and of course are, as they all rest within the overarching concept of love. Having said that, the collection begins in an unlikely place considering it contains love stories: through the eyes of a duplicitous man, which is a reality resting at the heart of many relationships, but not perhaps real love. ‘As Simple As Water’ explores the psychology of one man, and gives hints to men in general. It dives into the treachery surrounding his life; the fainting of his mistress after their argument-filled rendezvous, and his subsequent betrayal of both her and his wife, whom he calls after leaving his mistress alone and unconscious in hospital. Men and sex appear to be linked at all times, whereas women are afforded more than just their member. For instance, even within ‘Asunder’, where a man is the focal point and is left alone in a car, the protagonist still finds a woman urinating in the street to be somehow sexual in nature and feels an instant obligation to be honest with his partner on her return about what he has seen, less he be exposed. The urinating woman turns into a voyeuristic opportunity due to his treatment of the incident: McNamara does not shy away from the carnal aspects of man.
Another common theme is that character decisions are brutal but human. ‘Citrus’ is shocking with its domestic violence, and Charlotte’s plunging of tea over Kenneth followed by their subsequent lovemaking in ‘Banking’ is comical in its mortal messiness. The actions are within reason in such a way that is so often framed in daily life as unreasonable, and McNamara’s placing them back within the norm in Love Stories for Hectic People feels like a comfort. Rash actions become amusing, rather than shocking, in their ordinariness and immoral justifiability.
Ultimately, McNamara’s stories all filter into one another, simultaneously distant but attached. You can read this collection as a journey through humanity, or each story as a one-off investigation into a distinct aspect of existence. If you are wishing to sprinkle a little more magic into your own love or looking to reignite your previously lost lust for life, I would recommend reading McNamara’s collection, for there is nothing more intoxicatingly and beautifully human than reading about the love and longing of others.