Gaynor Jones’s novella-in-flash Among These Animals offers a raw, unvarnished picture of a farming family in Wales from the 1950s to 80s, with an emphasis on the strained relationship between the father (Derfel) and daughter (Carys).
The prose avoids the poetry of pastoralism, preferring to hunker down among the flies and shit of a working farm, complete with untamed dogs, lustful farmhands, and bleating ewes.
At the start of the collection, Carys is young and wild, full of laughter, cheek, vitality. She adores her father, likes to swear in secret, and tease her friends. Narrated from a close third person, Jones does an outstanding job in capturing the carefree spirit of her central character in the opening Flash Fiction.
Despite the early joy, childhood doesn’t last long for young Carys who knows how to catch the interest of boys and their wandering eyes. Youth is brief. Songs of Innocence, this is not.
When tragedy strikes, the fissures running through the family widen. Drink and depression settle upon Derfel and in one of the most striking Flash Fiction within the collection (‘Wild Dogs 1’) the father is haunted by a farm dog that ‘only has eyes for him’ and eventually ‘slinks through the back door’ being ‘too large a thing to be shut out.’ The mirroring Flash about Carys is equally powerful with prose taut and layered; emotionally complex, these two pieces are perhaps the strongest in the collection and serve as a mid-point within the work as a whole.
Save for one Flash Fiction, tellingly titled ‘Better Left Unsaid’, Jones does a masterful job at leaving things off the page. This is perhaps one of the most important and enjoyable features of Flash Fiction and Jones brilliantly and fittingly applies it to the tight-lipped Derfel. The character’s drinking and bottled-up emotions could drift into cliché, but Jones avoids this by offering glimpses behind the masks he feels he must wear. I was impressed with the subtleties of the central characters and the way Jones handles themes of masculinity and femininity.
Jones refuses to box up the story with a neat bow. This is, after all, a world where sex, death, and violence are chapters of a person’s life, inside and out. Jones reminds us that no matter how smooth and hard a shell might be, it can always be cracked, the yolk left splattered against a wall. Nevertheless, there’s a degree of redemption within the collection and the kindly words of neighbours, the bleating of ewes, and the gambolling of nieces and nephews remind us that joy, sadness, life and death are in perpetual motion, that these cycles continue endlessly, that no matter how long winter lasts, spring shall return.
A slim volume of fifty pages or so, Among These Animals is a short read, but gripping and guttural. Another superb publication from Ellipsis Magazine and stupendous work from Gaynor Jones.
Rupert Dastur is founding editor of TSS Publishing as well as a writer and tutor. He was formerly on the Events Committee for the Society of Young Publishers and is Associate Editor at The Word Factory. His work has been published in a range of places and he’s currently working on his debut novel.
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