About a year ago, I was at a book launch in Dublin and a card caught my eye as I was leaving. I had my newborn in the pram with me (I figured she wasn’t sleeping anyway, so she might as well come to a book launch). It was coming up to Mother’s Day, and the card made me chuckle so much that I took a photo of it and sent it to my Mum. On the front was a black-and-white photo of a pouting two-year-old with curly pigtails who looked very much like my eldest daughter. Underneath, the caption read;
‘By the time you realise your mum was always right, you will have a daughter who is convinced you are always wrong!’
This quote came to mind as I read ‘Tethered,’ the thought-provoking novella-in-flash by Ross Jeffery.
Told in short chapters of flash fiction, ‘Tethered‘ is an acute and compassionate tale of fatherhood, from the perspectives of two generations. A difficult relationship between father and son is narrated from their alternating perspectives with a great deal of empathy. Parenting is the central topic of this story, and as Jeffery wisely notes ‘this job doesn’t come with an instruction manual.’
In this case, the father is a man with a volatile temper, who’s love for his son is mingled with a desire to control him. Jeffery conveys the father’s voice convincingly; he captures the macho mentality of a dad who thinks his son will be a ‘mini me’, and narrates the man’s dawning awareness of his son as a separate and unique individual. The dad is ‘sharp, prickly, someone who needs to be handled with care, his temper vehement.‘
Rich visceral details add a note of authenticity to the narrative. As a child of the 80’s and early 90’s, I could relate to images such as Ninja turtle socks, a My Little Pony nightie and the sound of a new bottle of nail varnish when it cracks open. Jeffery is excellent at depicting the unspoken codes that exist in families; the silent rituals; the layers of love and hurt.
There are dramatic shifts in tone between the various pieces of flash. ‘Uncle‘ carries a disturbing note of panic, as it portrays a terrifying moment of physical violence; the form of flash lends itself well to such stories. By contrast, ‘Life in the Dirt‘ is a touching tale of childhood loss and a parent’s desire to shield their child from pain. Jeffery is very good at writing children; in the later story the fact that the ‘deceased’ is a pet hamster is never allowed to detract from the magnitude of the child’s sadness. Again, Banisters and Volcanoes captures the fear of a child caught in the storm of parental fighting.
Throughout the novella, images of suffocating and drowning abound, suggesting the nature of this intense relationship, in which father and son wrestle both literally and metaphorically. It is not until the son becomes a parent that he gains a new perspective on his father’s troubling behaviour, leading ultimately to the first shoots of reconciliation.
Many of the flash pieces in Tethered could easily stand alone, including the title story, which makes a dramatic end to the novella.
Ultimately Tethered is a short, intense portrait of a troubled father-son relationship and an examination of the ‘strange labyrinth‘ of parenting.
You can find out more about Tethered and Ross Jeffery here
You can purchase a copy of Tethered
in Paperback or eBook here
Ross Jeffery is a the author of Juniper. He is a Bristol based writer and Executive Director of Books for STORGY Magazine. Ross has been published in print with STORGY Books, Ellipsis Zine, The Bath Flash Fiction Festival, Project 13 Dark and Shlock Magazine to name a few. His work has also appeared in various online journals such as STORGY Magazine, About Magazine TX, Elephants Never, 101 Fiction, Ellipsis Zine, Soft Cartel and Idle Ink.
Ross lives in Bristol with his wife (Anna) and two children (Eva and Sophie). You can follow him on Twitter here @Ross1982
You can find out more and purchase a copy of Juniper here.
Reviewed by Roisin O’Donnell
Author of Wild Quiet
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