‘A Simple Twist of Fate’ Antonia Hildebrand
ISBN 978 1 76041 936 4
‘A Simple Twist of Fate’ by Antonia Hildebrand is a collection of thirteen stories told through a variety of voices. The title story is narrated by the lover of a badly abused woman, but as he delves into her history and surreptitiously reads pages from her diary, we have her own account of the ill treatment that drove her to murder. In ‘King Crab’ the thoughts of a twelve-year-old boy, are remembered by his adult self, and in ‘Rome, Twice’ a widow uses her Roman holiday to reflect on an earlier visit to the city.
The narrator of ‘Modern Love’ believes her life is shaped by a modern woman’s reproductive freedom. She can get herself pregnant against her partner’s wish, but should she? When she breaks the news of her pregnancy, the man is not angry because she stopped taking the contraceptive pill but because she did not tell him about her decision. The problem is not the ease of modern choice but a question that has haunted lovers since the beginning of time, ‘How far can I trust you?’
Another question raised in these stories is ownership. In ‘Modern Love’ the woman claims her husband’s sperm is ‘my property once it was deposited in me.’ The man does not agree.
In ‘The Eye Out of a Needle’ the thieving child believes, ‘Once I had taken something, it was mine.’ And, as a grown woman, she still regards anything stolen as a prize she deserves. She considers sharing some stolen money with her ex-lover and confederate and goes as far writing his address on the back of an envelope, but we doubt she sends him the money.
One of the most poignant stories in the collection is ‘King Crab.’ It gives a twelve-year-old boy’s view of the universe, as remembered by his adult self. After watching news reports from Vietnam, the boy decides ‘disasters just happened’ because ‘nobody seems to have much idea why it was happening.’ But he still uses his twelve-year-old knowledge of the world to save his dying mother. She has thyroid cancer and he knows that Cancer is the astrological sign of the crab. When a neighbour gives his father a large king crab, the boy immediately sees ‘the link between him and my mother’s disease.’ He makes a deal with a creature, he would take it back to the ocean, and, in exchange, it would give him back his mother. He releases the crab, his mother goes into remission, and the family has five good years before she dies. ‘I’ve often thought of the crab,’ the grown man writes, ‘and wondered if, five years after I released him, he was caught again.’ The adult laughs about ‘magical thinking’ that only a child would believe, but, ‘That’s what I tell myself,’ he says, with a Hildebrand twist that leaves us feeling he has not quite lost that belief.
The device of a self-mocking voice, undercutting its own story is used effectively in ‘Cold,’ where the survivor of childhood abuse admits she is shaping the sexual details of her present life to impress her therapist because. ‘I wanted her to know that even though I was a broken human being, I’d had my moments.’
In these stories each manifestation of the human condition has several faces. Hildebrand chooses a tourist’s impression of a city to show how the passing years bring a deeper understanding of the world’s complexity. In ‘Rome, Twice’ a widow remembers her first visit and thinks ‘I got it wrong in 1980’ when she and her husband explored the monuments of Imperial Rome and only recognised one part of the city’s story. On her second visit she understands that alongside the ruins of the Roman Empire there is the ‘beautiful, unfaithful face of art’ paid for by the church, and ‘lastly the monstrously cruel and evil face of crime and corruption,’ that is reported in the Roman newspapers.
In many of the stories there is an element of self-destruction or deliberate self-deception, but unlike a lot of writers, Hildebrand allows her characters to come to terms with their world. The lover who is shaken to learn how his partner bashed a violent husband to death, ‘stayed with her. In time I came to love her, but I was careful, very careful.’
When another woman left her lover, she told herself, ‘Tomorrow would be different. Better? Worse? Who could say? But it would be different.’ And the poet in ‘True North’ knows the stars won’t tell her future, ‘I would just have to wait and see what happened, like everyone else.’ This is not the confident ‘Happy ever after’ of a fairy-tale’s ending, but it does promise a future, however uncertain.
Like the widow’s second visit to Rome, the stories in ‘A Simple Twist of Fate’ explore the multifaceted nature of the human experience.
Robin Hillard lives in Melbourne. She writes reviews for Polestar magazine and has had poetry and short stories published in a number of magazines and ezines. She has published a mystery novel, Ridgeway Murder, and two books of story puzzles, Archie’s Antique Mystery Puzzles, Books 1 and 2.