The Shadow Side of Grace, by Michelle Butler Hallett
A delicate flower she is not. Michelle Butler Hallett, with this, her 2006 debut collection of short stories, will grab you by the throat and squeeze, make you remember how precious that air you breathe really is.
These stories are not for the squeamish – two boys watching, contemplating violence on a young girl playing with her dolls next door. Enigmatic wartime doctors in some unnamed frontier town, who would just as soon butcher the innkeeper as order a cup of tea. A Russian landlady and her boarder having a devil of a time trying to keep old bones from rising through the floor.
There is an economy of language to these stories, a delicate touch laid upon brutal content, that impresses. Hallett writes as her characters would speak, finding a range of voices to suit the settings, but always with that undercurrent of menace, the unsettling theme throughout, as her characters strive in spite of themselves to find, as her title aptly suggests, some semblance of grace once through the darkness.
I am fortunate to have called Hallett a friend for near a decade now, and can honestly say there is no trace of the sinister whatsoever in her, all the more impressive then that she imagines them so wickedly well.