A young woman fears for her safety as she travels alone through the small towns of Australia. A teenage couple navigate the unfamiliar boundaries of mental health and consent. A family suffers the legacy of a generation of abuse and trauma at the hands of their patriarch.
These are just some of the grim and dark stories that make up the debut collection from author Mandy Beaumont. Wild Fearless Chests is described on its cover as telling the stories of 'unheard women' - and to some extent it does that by virtue of exploring primarily stories of trauma, abuse, and unhappiness.
The collection begins somewhat uncertainly, and the narrative voice within opening story 'Drowning in Thick Air' is strong but not quite fully developed. The construction of the casual assault of the protagonist feels awkward and unfinished, but perhaps this is the entire point - that assault occurs in mundane and uncomfortable scenarios, rarely with the violence and passion depicted in popular culture, more often in the ugly and banal way shown in Beaumont's stories.
The collection really hits its stride with 'Bright Light and All Brilliance', a longer piece that explores the horrific impact of violence on a family through three siblings, told from the perspective of the child of one brother. Beaumont employs a unique technique of truncated sentences, allowing the piece to sing with a rhythm of its own - one can see how powerful this story would be if read aloud. The key strength of this story belies the flaw in much of the rest of this collection - the characters in 'Bright Light and All Brilliance' are given depth, complexity, and motive. Beaumont's talent for homing in on the details of ordinary life to expose the devastating impact of trauma is shown to its full effect.
In contrast, other pieces in Wild Fearless Chests feel more two-dimensional, lacking in the same depth. The teenager who assaults his girlfriend and then ignores her in 'Emily' is a story that feels awkward and unfinished. The sex worker who suffers the mockery of her clients in 'Weight' is cut off before her character can be unfolded for the reader.
Despite the narrative structure at times seeming to let the collection down, there is no denying the force of Beaumont's writing - her ability to create simple images that stay with the reader for days, and to spin words in a way that is at once elegant and brutal in their emotional impact is a pleasure to behold.
Wild Fearless Chests is a solid collection, which suggests the potential we're yet to see realised from Beaumont.
- Zoya Patel is a Canberra author. Her recent book is No Country Woman: A memoir of not belonging.
- Wild Fearless Chests, by Mandy Beaumont. Hachette. $28.99.