Title: Phantom Pain by Lydia Peelle
Date Read: 15 August 2009
Available Online?: YES (as one of the stories posted by Harper Perennial on their website Fifty-Two Stories, which promises a new (or classic) short story from their collection, posted every week throughout 2009).
Briefly: Jack Wells, a skilled and aged taxedermist, recounts life in backwater Highland City, a town where hunting is very much the primary vocation. An ex-wife, a new apprentice, and spreading rumours of the existence of a mountain cat in the surrounding forest, are not the only things laying heavy on Jack’s mind, as he focusses on coming to terms with the recent amputation of one of his legs.
Afterthoughts: I really enjoyed this story, not least because it reads like an ethnographic study of life in a rural American town, where hunting is a key feature. I adore Pelle’s prose. It’s accessible, warm, intelligent and highly observant. Just as much as a story about hunting Phantom Pain is also a story about loss and decline, and Pelle explores these themes with superb literary panache. Her writing is sublime a times, as the following quote hopefully illustrates.
Notable Quote: “The long hunters buried each other in hollowed-out tree trunks, no time to build a proper coffin, no women to linger and weep over a grave. Scores of them must have died in these woods. A dangerous place, back then. But give me that over a hospital room any day, Jack thinks. Go with some dignity. And then, to be laid to rest the way so many creatures go: curled up in a log somewhere, tail over nose, and by spring they’ve crumbled into the log, and the log, in a few years, is crumbled into the soil. It makes him feel cheated and lonesome, looking up into the leaves, the bare crowns lit with the last of the sun. There’s not a single tree left out here that would be big enough to hold him.”
*Story read as part of my 100 Shots of Short reading challenge.