Book Reviewed: Dark Winds Over Wellington by Tabatha Wood
From the opening story of Tabatha Wood’s debut short story collection Dark Winds Over Wellington, Wood expertly combines the horrible with the familiar, the extraordinary with the commonplace and by doing so makes our world feel more real in the process.
I’m not saying that her stories lead us to believe in vampires and werewolves and take-over-the-government-bee-aliens and oceanic monsters although Wood’s writing is so vibrant and real if anyone could, she would. No. Wood’s stories of the weird and horrible make her adopted city of Wellington, and my home town, more real because of the depth of humanity they portray.
In the opening story, Heat Pump, a young woman waits anxiously alone in her home for a tradesman to fix her heat pump. This story has a surprising twist on the age-old trope of sexual prey narratives and alters ideas of victimhood. It also deftly explores the nature of gendered power plays.
The story A Good Cup of Coffee starts out with its protagonist feeling ill at ease within herself. This sense of personal discomfort grows to envelop her world. As the title suggests, this story develops observances of Wellington’s almost obsessive coffee culture and considers a more sinister underside to the city’s favourite beverage.
Wood has a lovely physicality to her writing that further supports both the beautiful and that which is less so. She writes about the heat of coffee and weighty warmth of summers as well as the coppery tang-taste-of-blood and things seen and heard that characters wish they hadn’t been witness to.
Additionally, any Wellingtonian would appreciate her references to iconic places. The Bays of The Miramar Peninsula. The wild Southern with Red Rocks at its end. The fountain in the central city beach of Oriental Bay.
Wood not only references the sea and the city’s coastal areas multiple times, as a reader, I get the feeling that the sea plays a large role in her revisioning of her adopted town. Her stories wave in and out of each other as characters appear and disappear and are revisited across her narratives. Tensions rise like dangerously high sea levels and readers are flooded with emotion as they along with the characters, lose loved ones, face challenges with courage and maybe even feel some part of themselves die, only to be reborn.
On completion of the book, I was left wishing I hadn’t finished it. I wanted more horror stories (note, not my usual genre) because they made my daily life feel more vivid. More real. More lived. Wood’s stories imagine winds that cry and curse to make us murderers. They postulate on insect-alien takeovers of our parliament buildings aptly named The Beehive. They tell the stories of sickly boys that long to have super powers and get them. The age-old Vampiric tale of those who feed on the living so they can live forever is also a narrative strand revisited within the text. However, Wood’s quirky and face paced stories made me not want to live forever, but better. To make more room for fantastical fiction where kids find runes and can calm sea monsters and where encounters with death make people live larger as well as better. For me Wood’s book is part of that living larger. It made me read outside my usual academic feminist theory and literary texts. It made for something else less serious but still meaningful. It made me, as I feel good literature should do, look at the world anew.
See below a link to Tabby’s website: