The story ‘Laps’ encapsulates the importance of confronting past failures and losses. As a young adult, Queenie is rejected by her hometown community of Angelus, made into “a loser, an outcast”. From early on in the opening passage we are given an indication of past hurts, “a grave and a crusade and a well of bitterness”. Through this use of strong imagery and metaphor, Winton establishes character and highlights Queenie’s sense of disconnection from her past.
Additionally, the use of interior monologue such as “all this time they’ve been growing, and I’ve gone to fat” gives us an indication that although time has passed and people have moved on with their lives, Queenie has remained stationary in her past, unable to move on from her rejection and loss. She is numb with the weight of the past, feeling “as though all this was a story she had read somewhere; it didn’t seem part of her life”. Queenie’s isolation is further reflected in the setting. Angelus is a physical representation of Queenie’s past, as she says “I want to confirm things…. ike this town being the past”. Additionally, water is used as a reoccurring symbol; the ocean, once a place of happy childhood memories, is now a place of exile and defeat. The metaphoric description of the “steel surface of the harbour” is an example of pathetic fallacy, reflecting Queenie’s hardness, her sense of rejection and defeat as an outsider. Furthermore, juxtaposition in setting is used to contrast the urban – representing the present, new life of “softness” – with her prior life in the countryside – a symbol of “hardness” and her past loss and defeat.
Queenie is aware that she has not moved on from her past, “The hurt of seven years before had healed them together in a way they had not expected…she had been numb for longer than she could remember”. She confronts her husband, suggesting they return to Angelus for a weekend, saying “places shouldn’t frighten us anymore…. a place can’t screw you forever”. We can see that Queenie has come to the realisation that in order the move forward she must take a step back into her past.
As Queenie and her young family approach Angelus, the town is described as a “new galaxy”, reflecting change and as well as Queenie’s sense of foreboding and anticipation. As they enter the town, the family is dumbfounded by how much it has changed – “Angelus had learned to live off its dying…it was a town looking bright faced into the future”. The notion of the town and community having moved on in time is a stark contrast to Queenie’s step back into her past. As they return to Angelus, Winton begins to give us snippets of information – similar to flashbacks – of her past.
The revelation of Queenie’s loss and defeat to the reader is parallel to Queenie’s confrontation with her past. As the family move through the town, visiting places from their past, we see that Queenie slowly gains hope and comfort that she can move on with her life, as well as regaining her confidence, putting her past into a broader perspective. The idea of Angelus as “just a place” suggests that through visiting , Queenie is finally able to detach herself from her past. The story ends on a sense of hope as Queenie lunges into the water, “not invincible but strong”.
She comes to the realisation that “she knew she could swim it all out of her” – she can finally move on from her grief and loss. Through this story, Winton reveals that sometimes in order to move forward you have to take a step back; you have to move on or your past will destroy you. “Gravity” is another story highlighting the importance of confronting the past. On the anniversary of his father’s death, Jerra is forced to confront his loss and father’s absence. From earlier stories in the Nilsam suite we learn that Jerra can be self-indulgent and immature, taking a long time to accept changed circumstances.
This inability to confront the past reaches a climax in “Gravity”. Jerra is unable to move on – the loss of this father has bounded him to the past, giving him a sense of emptiness, “there was a hole in him…something was lost. ” From the opening passage Jerra’s self-indulgence and bitterness is evident by his reluctance to return to the party he is supposed to be co-hosting. The use of flashbacks of Jerra’s father teaching him to ride a bike highlights the bond of the father-son relationship and the pain of Jerra’s loss – “And then the grip gone, no old man.
Sudden grave feeling of independence. Turning, turning”. Jerra is hit with the realisation that his father is gone, that he is alone – “it was riding down that street, as though he had been balancing a cycle for the first time. There was no exhilaration in it, only a terrible sense of gravity”. The memory of learning to ride a bike is a metaphor of Jerra’s current struggle to deal with reality – he must stay on the bike in order to move forward or be dragged down by gravity; Jerra must move on or be held down by the past.
The vibrant atmosphere of the party is a stark contrast to Jerra’s sense of loss. Everything is a blur, “he felt a little punch drunk”, disoriented. As “the party wore on”, Jerra seeks refuge in the studio which his father built for him. As Jerra unlocks the studio door, he is unlocking his past. The studio is linked to “the Tower of Babel”, suggesting a safe haven, a place of sanctuary. Compared to the world outside the walls of the studio, everything within is clear – Winton uses listing to describe the studio in great detail.
The studio is a physical representation of the connection between father and son. By coming here, we are given an indication that Jerra is ready to confront his past and move on with his life. The studio is full of memories, and as Jerra is forced to confront them and reflect, we see a sudden change in the way he sees the world. “Nilsam was a father. He was a husband. He was a son” – Jerra finally accepts his responsibilities and understands his place in life. As with ‘Laps’, the story ends on an optimistic note, the setting of dawn symbolizing a new day and bright future. Today he would do many things” – Jerra is finally able to move forward and make the most of his life, after directly confronting his father’s loss. Jerra acknowledges his father’s death and his responsibility of his own role as a father, and comes to the realization that life needs to be lived. On the other hand, ‘Minimum of Two’ challenges the idea of confronting the past. The story highlights that taking the wrong approach to a problem, especially matters that involve others, can have disastrous consequences. Madigan is consumed with anger, frustration and bitterness over the rape of his wife Greta.
The use of short, sharp syntax in the quote “I was ashamed. That hatred came back and I was frightened of myself” illustrates Madigan’s raw emotion of fear, anger and guilt at his inability to console his wife. Winton uses contrast to show Greta’s deterioration – “Greta had never been a weak person… [but] Greta was no longer strong, there was nothing”. Madigan is well aware that the couple’s relationship is disintegrating, likening it to “starving to death”. This simile shows his utter helplessness as he watches his wife suffer physically and mentally.
His hunger for his wife and helplessness at her alienation drives Madigan into darker emotions, his anger building up into hatred and revenge, to the want “to kill Fred Blakey”. Unlike ‘Laps’ and ‘Gravity’, the story has a sombre ending, with Madigan realising that “something had slipped from [his] grasp”. Consumed with anger, Madigan kills Fred Blakey, yet “in that moment [he] knew [he] had lost [his] life. [He] was a dead man. ” In the moments following his act of revenge, Madigan has the crystalline realisation that revenge means absolutely nothing.
In this story, Winton suggests that sometimes when we try and confront our problems, we end up making things worse. Winton explores both the positive and negative outcomes of confronting one’s problems, highlighting the need to do so in order to move forward. This message is evident in ‘Laps’ and ‘Gravity’, where the protagonists are forced to confront their past loss and defeat. In these two stories, Winton suggests that in order to move forward, a backwards step into the past is necessary.
Although the process may bring back painful memories, Winton shows that there is hope for those who confront their problems. However, Winton also emphasises the need to deal with problems from the right approach, with calm rather than bitterness, the failure of doing so resulting in potentially disastrous consequences as seen in ‘Minimum of Two’. As a whole, the anthology of stories reveals to us that those who confront their problems do deal with them more successfully, and are able to move on with their lives.