Author: Meg Mundell
Published in: Meanjin vol 64
When a woman gives birth no one walks into the room, takes one glance at the baby and says “oh boy, that must have been one hell of a labor.”
The same should be the same for fiction. But sadly for Meg Mundell’s creation Vermilion its not the product that she delivers that steals the show, but rather the painfully obvious craftsmanship which led to it.
The short story is a glance of life in suburban flat told from the dual perspectives of Will and Nina: Will is quiet, neat and private whilst Nina is (of course) his exact opposite- a brash, alcoholic painter trying to reach a deadline. Their paths cross due to the frazzled intrusion of Nina into Will’s life and from here the story becomes an intertwined look and their distant, but oddly intimate relationship.
However, for a story about the organic growing of intimacy between two strangers, there is the artificial presence of Mundell: the puppet master showing her hands. Her authorial voice is a constant intrusion and makes it seem as though Mundell is struggling to push these characters together. It’s not just the unrealistic descriptions that Will gives of the neighbour he has never met which, like a bread trail, leads the audience straight out of the drama. It is the lack of voice belonging to each of the characters which make them unremarkable and indistinct from one another. Mundell creates interesting characters but they are so unrealistic that they never really move off the page.
At least on the page Mundell gets a chance to show of her masterful grasp on the English language which becomes the story’s greatest value and biggest flaw. The long, luscious sentences are used to great effect in concealing the story’s twist but Mundell’s beautiful words become overshadowed by the overuse of dual perspectives. Its almost as if the technique has been used as a way to drive a story she’s only writing to showcase her talent. The perspectives are repetitive and the two paths of the characters become more like concentric circles, which follow each other around and around again.
Vermilion like many short stories from young writers shows all the promise and talent of someone who has a lot to offer. However talent shouldn’t be the basis of a story- a story itself should be.