This second collection of short stories by Susan Midalia is perspicacious, pertinent and irresistibly entertaining. There are seventeen stories capturing an everyday moment or event, each inspiring a greater consciousness and consideration of other people and their feelings.
The charm of Midalia’s short stories is that the glimpse they provide into ordinary people’s lives make them universally applicable and so extraordinarily moving. As the daily business of living grinds on, there is comfort provided in the illustration that the true meaning and beauty of life is in the minutiae of living, that the ordinariness of life can be interesting in itself. With wonderful mastery of language and awareness of the wide range of experiences and sorrows that afflict humanity, she provides windows into an incident in someone’s life, significant perhaps only to the individual involved, but which somehow resonates emotionally universally.
Midalia’s settings are relevantly Australian, though there are two stories located abroad, in Moscow and Vienna, seen from Australian points of view.
“Underground” is the experience of a teacher’s visit to Moscow and her musings of what her nephew would have thought of Lenin’s tomb. “The study of falling cats” is another moving story, capturing the painful witnessing of blind prejudice, which forever taints what should have been a pleasurable moment eating the famous chocolate cake in the Sacher Hotel in Vienna.
“Sacred” embeds in the mind, the heart-breaking tale of a little boy who is punished for fighting and cannot explain and justify to his mother why he was doing so, without causing her undue hurt. Defending her reputation from a cruel and vicious insult, he would rather suffer the unjust accusation of being mindlessly violent than to cause her the deep distress of knowing what she was being called by other boys at school.
All these briefly and so perfectly encapsulated moments in other people’s lives are compassionately illustrated in Midalis’s distinctive style. They encourage the resistance to make assumptions about other people and negate the impulse to judge. They provide the insight needed for greater tolerance, courtesy and consideration for the feelings of others. They make for a better, kinder world.
Her first collection, A History of the Beanbag, also contains stories of everyday occurrences that, without exception, stir sentiments of recognition, sympathy and empathy.
Midalia has such a glorious use and understanding of words and the power of language which marries perfectly with her deep understanding of people and the problems that trouble them. Such gifted authors guide their readers to see the world in a different, more detailed way, to look twice at people that may not have initially warranted more than a fleeting glance and to give their lives greater thought and importance.
Each of her short stories is structured so well, their compact brevity makes the ordinariness they depict all the more memorable and poignant. Midalia lays bare love, compassion, kindness, cruelty, people’s hopes and fears – all the things that make us human, with our incessant need to understand more about why we feel the way we do.
Life-enhancing and with a gracious simplicity devoid of ego, An Unknown Sky will be immensely enjoyed by those who embrace the many wonderful attributes Midalia’s short stories have to offer.