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Book review: She is Haunted, Paige Clark, Allen & Unwin

A bitingly clever short story collection about life, loss, relationships, and identity.

Paige Clark’s exquisite debut begins and ends, with death. There is dying in the middle too, but her stories don’t wallow; they’re pragmatic. Curious. Alive with the strangeness of human beings dealing with subjective realities, selves, and relationships. Clark’s quirky characters reveal subtle truths about how people relate, how race shapes experience, and how much reality hinges on contingency. In addition to illuminating the how, these stories repeatedly pose the question of why

The book begins with a woman bargaining for the lives of her lover and child, dealing in the arbitrariness of death and what one might be willing to sacrifice. Next, we read about jealousy, replacement, and loving the stink of someone, before moving on to the third story, Gwendolyn Wakes *insert praise here*. Clark is both surreal and mundane in the way she projects bureaucracy onto relationships, via post-mortem-esque analysis, exposing the dehumanisation of people within systems and the fetishisation of minorities. 

The titular tale, She is Haunted, constructs an intriguing reimagining of the afterlife in which Elvis is the devil, Neil Armstrong cooks rice, and hungry ghosts have ghosts of their own. Cranes highlights the weirdness of humanity, and the connections people develop. Safety Triangle encourages the reader to question the true value of fear on an intellectual level, whilst In A Room of Chinese Women paints both hostility and solidarity between women as being stronger than surface tension is capable of revealing. Amygdala portrays brain surgery in a post-apocalyptic world, in which language and memories are traded for temperature regulation, hinting at the difference between language and communication, as well as the paradox of recovering from loss. Cracks (hypervigilance), A Woman in Love (what could have been), Why my Hair is Long (intergenerational trauma) and What we Deserve (strained relationships and muted rage) are masterful interpretations of love, loss, and human nature, with more to say than mere words. Also, there are chihuahuas. Plural. 

Read: Book review: The Advocates, Robyn Gulliver and Jill L. Ferguson, Melbourne University Press

This seamlessly connected collection of standalone stories focuses its perceptive lens on the lived experiences of women exploring death through life, and life through death. Clark walks sharp lines between truth and rejection, innovation and tradition, fate and contingency, with casual intelligence and deep emotional resonance. Every story reads like a thought experiment, or a fragment of self; hyperreal, philosophical, and rich in non-generic symbolism. This is a book to read languorously while eating pineapple bread and drinking wine. She is Haunted will resonate with most humans, some chihuahuas, and one or two clones… 

She is Haunted, Paige Clark
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
ISBN: 9781760879976 
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272pp
Publication date: July 2021
RRP $29.99

Nanci Nott is an Australian writer who believes in dismantling traditional pedagogy in parenting and education, for the purpose of raising freethinking, compassionate, world-changers.

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