Terrible Teacher

Justine Jordan

  • Little Thing by Susan Wicks
    Faber, 155 pp, £9.99, May 1998, ISBN 0 571 19344 7

You need never explain yourself in the present tense. It is the most authoritative and least analytical tense in English, the stuff of dreams (the breakdown of cause and effect) and of experimental fiction, and marks a point where prose moves towards poetry. Susan Wicks’s background in poetry illuminates and informs her fiction (she has published three collections, as well as a memoir, Driving My Father). Both Little Thing and her first novel, The Key, use poetry’s building-blocks of partisan fragment and significant moment, along with a neglect of chronology: events are linked not by order of occurrence but by similitude. The narrator of The Key inverts an early relationship with a manipulative older man by taking the controlling role in her relationship with a younger man, twenty years later. She jumbles parallel defining moments from the two affairs so that it is hard to tell where to site intention and responsibility, and whether she is doer-to or done-by. The novel captures the way emotional wounds can stay open for decades – each time it is spoken, an ex-lover’s name conjures the same ‘sick gasp in the pit of my stomach like impotence or shame’ – and can even come to constitute a personality.

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