What’s Unplugged all about?:
With references to The Wizard Of Oz, Unplugged follows a young woman who hears voices in her head which leads to dramatic consequences as she chooses to listen.
What did I think?:
It’s purely coincidence that this story rolled around as part of my Short Stories Challenge quite soon after I had posted a review of a novel also compared to The Wizard Of Oz, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead by Charlie Laidlaw. As a previously bona fide fangirl of The Wizard Of Oz I was delighted to read another piece of contemporary fiction with nods to this classic and brilliant story. Having read a few of the tales in this collection now, I knew to expect the unexpected with Dianne Gray and what I got was yet another powerful piece of writing that remains firmly etched in my memory, for all the best reasons.
Unplugged follows our female protagonist, who was adopted at four years of age and had her name changed from Elmira Gulch to Dorothy Gale. Anyone remember who Elmira Gulch was in The Wizard Of Oz? Go to the top of the class if you said The Wicked Witch Of The West. Dorothy has been struggling her whole life with the voice of a witch in her head telling her incredible things about the world and causing her to lose her job at Toto Cut Price Deli. For example, God doesn’t exist and humans were created by viruses and germs purely as a means of transport. She also tells her that cameras are everywhere, watching her every move, making her paranoid and frustrated. Things only get worse when Hickory at the second hand shop refuses to sell her a pair of ruby slippers that the witch in her brain assures her she has to have if she has a chance of returning home to her birth parents:
“I decided it was time for the truth and told Hickory that my real name was Dorothy. I had a witch flying around in my head, I had been adopted at four years of age and I needed the slippers to find my way home. He told me he was the Tin Man and called the police.”
The rest of the story follows Dorothy as she struggles, in vain with the things the witch is telling her to to leading to a run in with the local police and a life-changing incident. It is filled with the most beautiful, poetical language that at times, took my breath away. For example, she talks about the time she visited her Grandpa Gale in hospital:
“He was a big man who had wasted away to a leaf. Death was building a birdcage out of his ribs.”
Simply gorgeous and so evocative! However, this is nothing compared to the poignancy of the ending. Now I’ve mentioned that I know what to expect from Dianne Gray, so you would think I’d be prepared for the way she tends to end her stories? No. Each time I’m astounded by the way she manages to turn things and pull on your emotions so that you see things from a whole new light and this particular ending was horrid, bitter-sweet and unforgettable. Manslaughter And Other Tears is fast becoming one of my favourite short story collections for sure. There’s only been one story so far that I haven’t found quite as fantastic as the others – that was Still Life (although the bar for her work has been set extraordinarily high I have to say!). The author’s use of fairy-tale imagery and the atmosphere she creates when setting her scenes is second to none and I cannot praise her work highly enough.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: Wisht by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles.