The Knight’s Move, the opening story in Gee Williams’ collection, transports you to a cliff-face where guilt and memory meet an intent not quite specified. As with much of the best storytelling, a lot is is left unsaid, and what is said is raw, sharp, and sour-tasting in places, exquisitely sublime in others: a combination that works well for the reader.
By the end of the tale I feel that I know exactly how to climb an all-but sheer rock-face and the accompanying sense of weightless, a sensation that carried on for much of the collection, as Gee’s words you, then dip you from one life to another.
Most short story collections are a journey of sorts, as you travel from character to character, scenario to scenario, taking in the different views along the way.With Gee’s short stories this is more apparent than with many, with several of the tales in A Girl’s Arm actually involving a car or bus journey, more than one taking a trip into their own past and several indulging in internal journeys that are more compelling than any physical one.
The characters are preoccupied in ways that drift their surroundings in and out of focus so that the landscape blurs at times like the view beyond a rain-smeared window.
And yet, on finishing the collection, several scenes burn bright in my mind: Bethan’s ‘gaunt but upright’ old man glimpsed through the rain in False Banded, neglected baby Naila with her hair worn away through a desire to see more than a slip of ceiling, Eryl’s first, long-yearned for glimpse of Fatima, Queen of the Nile at a fairground sideshow in Eyeful, Saul and his internal swarm of bees, his attention “snaffled” by “a girl’s train of sorrel hair” in A Crack.
Even Sam, co-hosting a party with her husband in Settled At Civeen, seems utterly on the periphery of things, a fact perhaps explained when her elderly mother emerges with more on show than the guests can bear to see, “as though she had sat down absent-mindedly on a small albino pet.”
The glorious understated-ness of this exquisite observation is one of the book’s many highlights.
The language is poetic, elegant and skilfully layered throughout, every string of words shifting you a little deeper into each protagonist’s view of the world.