These eight works showcase Jessica Anderson’s ability to delve deeply into the hearts and minds of her reminiscences of “Stories from the Warm Zone” portray the gradual blossoming of Bea, a young girl in rural Queensland circa 1930. In contrast, the three contemporary “Sydney Stories” offer fully drawn adult characters, exposing turbulent emotions beneath their cool and sophisticated exteriors.
“Under the House,” the first of the five sequential “autobiographical fictions” set in the warm northern region of Australia, subtly delineates the bonds, taboos, and rivalries that govern relations between Bea, her three older siblings (a brother and two sisters), and their pacifist mother and ailing father. It is followed by “The Appearance of Things,” a humorous tale describing the three sisters’ introduction to religion in the person of a handsome pastor. In the last three stories, a speech impediment requires Bea to receive private instruction from her mother, Iris. Isolated from their peers, the two take some comfort in their shared company but maintain the distance necessitated by their different stations. Bea, for example, begins to test familial restrictions; Iris, on the other hand, must remain a forbidding authority figure.
While Anderson relates her Queensland stories through the persona of an older Bea, she employs a third-person narrative voice in the more harrowing “Sydney Stories.” One of these tales follows the interplay between a scholar and a wealthy widow he meets in a park; the other two examine the lives of divorcees in the period of adjustment after they have left their spouses. Anderson’s accounts of the “post-separation dementia” affecting these divorced couples are particularly vivid and jarring.