A young woman encounters ghosts in the buildings of Berlin; a child falls through the air; a patient survives; lovers couple; a mosquito slips through an open window; a house burns. These are a few of the subjects in Call It Tender, a collection of short stories by John Saul.
The author of two novels, Heron and Quin and Finistere, Saul’s short fiction has been published widely in Europe, North America and Australia. Call It Tender is his new collection.
These stories are cosmopolitan in character, reflecting Saul’s extensive travels in Europe, and in both North and South America. In fact, though nuanced, his prose is solid, heavy with atmosphere, seemingly carved out of the long histories of the cities in which they are set.
In G3.5, Mannheim is viewed from above as a young man tries to understand his damaged lover. In Untitled, the past and the present intersect as a tourist roams Berlin in a snowstorm. In Tender, events in Paris and those in Union City, New Jersey are aligned. But, though the settings are interesting, underscoring the emotional intensity of Saul’s fiction, it is Saul’s masterful characterisation that provides the poignancy in this collection. As the characters blunder along, the reader is taken on a series of journeys—through mental illness, for example, and a drug high, torture, even the thrill of riding a Harley-Davidson. And though these stories touch on joy and hope, it is the serious weight of life that lingers long after the book is closed. This is a collection that will rub you raw.
Call It Tender, John Saul, Salt Publishing.
Review first published in The Courier-Mail in 2007.