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Drought & Other Stories

by Jan Thornhill

Drought & Other Stories, the first book of adult fiction from children’s author Jan Thornhill, offers sad, poignant, and quirky short stories recounting the domestic tragedies of women’s lives. The women in these tales love rogue men, endure unrequited love or abusive husbands, seek revenge after being raped or cheated on, and have anonymous sex in misguided attempts to heal the wounds caused by being dumped.

While these women are hardly passive victims, readers might still have to suppress the urge to periodically scream “Dump him! Get the hell out of there, sister!” Thornhill’s characters spend more time observing their circumstances and reacting to them than doing anything to change them. Rather than turfing out the bad guys, the women in these stories discover small, private comforts instead – finding distraction and peace in poignant and poetic ways.

In most cases, these comforts come through relationships with animals (wildlife is also a recurring motif in Thornhill’s writing for children), suggesting that sometimes what we seek is beyond language, what we need instinctive, and what we find subtle and unexplainable. These are not pet poodles or Siamese cats, but rodents, birds, worms, fish – creatures of the wild. Sometimes merely the suggestion of wildlife provides emotional sustenance: dead bats, the tracks of animals in snow, and, in the case of one lonely woman living in the country with her boorish husband, animal remains that she collects and hides in a box under her bed.

The one major problem with this collection is that the women and their stories are largely indistinguishable. They are told in such a consistent voice that the characters blur together despite their different ages, and the stories blend despite the changes in scenery. Fortunately, though, this voice is articulate and provocative enough to keep things interesting.