False River by Paula Morris

 

Riffing on truth, lies, and secrets, this collection uses fiction to explore fact, and fact to explore fiction. This collection of essays and short stories are based around the theme of lying and secret histories.

These pieces range the world – from America, to Antwerp to Aotearoa – and talk about writers and writing, famous figures, family members, witch-burning in Denmark, cyclones and numerous pertinent and stimulating topics.

The book opens with a fictional piece about a man dealing a double wammy – a marriage breakup and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Morris then ends the book with her own story about her and her husband’s own experience of Hurricane Katrina while they were living in New Orleans.

Early or alternate versions of a number of the stories have been published before, but Morris has reworked them for this new audience.

As a writer, I really appreciated the insights of her writing approaches, such as scribbling down snippets of conversations she overhears and the books that influenced her as a child.

Women, Still Talking, and Sick Notes are beautiful, heartbreaking stories. While the former is an essay, Sick Notes documents Morris’s father’s death alongside her childhood of being sick and hating school. It’s a raw, honest story that will pull at your heartstrings, while also sending a smile across your face. Likewise, Inheritance, about Morris’s mother, is a gorgeous memoir to her.

Rocky Ridge, the longest story in the book, is an in-depth essay on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series of Little House books. The American tales were a favourite of Morris’s growing up. She pens a considerate essay on the books, while also highlighting how they romanticised a family history and grew from a tumultuous relationship between mother and daughter. However, those of us who aren’t fans may find the essay tedious and boring.

Like most of Morris’s previous writing, False Rivers cries out to be re-read and re-interpreted time and time again. While it was a little difficult to stick with, I have no doubt further readings of this book will reveal hidden treasures and endear itself to the reader even more. False Rivers is a bit like life, moving us along, occasionally banging us against the rocks. A beautiful, subtle collection of stories from one of our most intelligent writers.

 

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Rebekah is an Otago-based mother of two young girls. The former journalist and primary school teacher has a soft spot for New Zealand authors and young adult fiction. Follow her on Twitter.

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