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Posted on 14 Jun 2022 in Non-Fiction |

TRENT DALTON Love Stories. Reviewed by Suzanne Marks

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The bestselling novelist brings together real-life love stories in this collection.

How this book came together is as intrinsic to its existence as the 150 love stories it contains. It opens with Dalton’s letter to his friend Kathleen Kelly, who has ‘bowed out to death on Christmas Day’. She is his mate Greg’s mother and as dear to him as family. On the day of her funeral, Greg gives Dalton Kath’s beautiful sky-blue Olivetti Studio 44 typewriter, and tells him that she especially wanted him to have it. Deeply moved, he immediately vows to use that typewriter to write something special. With Love Stories he has more than kept his vow.

Dalton collected his material by walking Brisbane’s streets for two months and asking passers-by to tell him their love stories. Then for two weeks he set up a collapsible table, two second-hand chairs and his beautiful Olivetti typewriter on a busy corner of Brisbane’s CBD with a sign reading Sentimental writer collecting love stories. Do you have one to share?

Like his two highly acclaimed novels, Boy Swallows Universe (2018)and All Our Shimmering Skies (2020), Love Stories reminds us of the value of humanity, and the love and hope we bring to the world. Despite global pandemics, wars in faraway places and climate change disasters threatening to extinguish hope and turn us against each other, these stories reveal our enduring capacity to love, nurture, and hold fast to those we hold dear.

Some of the most beautiful and tender narratives come from Dalton himself. We see how alive he is to this world he inhabits:

You would not believe the things people tell you when you take the time to shut the hell up and listen. The wisdoms, the secrets and stories so heartbreaking, triumphant, romantic, exhilarating, hilarious, tragic and wondrous, just like this life.

Story one is titled ‘Two Believers’, about Helen and her husband Norman Clark, who died six years before. ‘I believe in love,’ Dalton tells Helen as she settles into the collapsible chair. ‘Oh me too,’ she replies as she starts to unravel the unlikely events that brought her and Norm together. Despite driving her home every week, it was two long years before ‘he first delivered his first perfect and delicious kiss’. When she asked him why it took him so long, he replied: ‘Because I never had a chance. You always had a cigarette hangin’ from your mouth.’ Helen deeply mourns all those lost kisses and shakes her fist in frustration at the time they wasted. Dalton now knows what love is: ‘It is two years of not being kissed by Norm Clark.’

Then in ‘Love is Blindness’, Rene and her dog Cassie stop by. Rene wraps her arms around Cassie’s neck cooing, ‘I dooooooo love you soooooo.’ Rene suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited eye disease that started to set in at age 36. Knowing that blindness was coming, she committed every feature of her daughter’s face to memory – the contours of her cheekbones, her eye colour, ‘what her daughter’s lips do when she smiles’. But she sorrows that she has never seen her 11-year-old grandson’s face. Dalton muses that if by some quirk of the universe Rene was granted five minutes of sight, she would commit every second to memorising every detail of her grandson’s face.

We meet Will and Sarah, who, within the first few hours of meeting, shared their first kiss bouncing on a trampoline under a perfect starry sky as ‘the man in the moon was eating his popcorn’. They have two little boys and exude the weariness of young parents. Will is a merchant seaman, which frequently takes him away on long sea voyages. He tells how, when he is heading for home and first sees land, he knows that it is home because home is where Sarah is.

In ‘YES’, Chloe recalls the time she was at the top of the Eiffel Tower and heard a gasp from the tourists standing behind her, and the sound of a girl crying. She turned to see that the girl’s boyfriend had dropped to one knee and asked her to marry him. Through the girl’s tears Chloe heard her say oui, and she ruminates on how her father proposed to her mother in a bar after a soccer match. ‘Where would you do something like that in Brisbane?’ she asks. Dalton agrees there is no Eiffel Tower in Brisbane, but ‘we do have Thurlow Street’, where he proposed to his wife, from the gutter, and goes on to tell the story.

I recommend that you take time to read the table of contents. For me it was the ball of string by which I followed Dalton as he wove his way through the labyrinth of anecdotes to find what love is, in all its various manifestations. Intriguing titles include ‘The Actress Breaking Up With Her Boyfriend in Her Underwear After a Two-Day Drive from Tasmania’; ‘The Importance of Bear Hugs and Falling in Love with a Married Man Back When Telephones Were Still Stuck on the Wall’, ‘Love and the Institute of Chartered Accountants, 1913’ and ‘Waiting for the Icicle to Fall’.

On this ordinary Brisbane street, in the midst of everyday life, engaging with people going about their daily lives, Dalton has chronicled an array of human experience that confirms again and again that, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, personality type and context, we humans are filled with love and a willingness to believe that it can also shape our world. This is how we stay connected to what is indestructible in ourselves; it is love, loyalty and compassion that keep us connected to our hearts, to each other, and thus to what is best in ourselves. This book will stay on my keeper shelf for many years to come.

Trent Dalton Love Stories Fourth Estate 2021 HB 352pp $32.99

Suzanne Marks is a member of the Board of the Jessie Street National Women’s Library and the Sydney University Chancellor’s Committee. Her professional life has been in equity, human rights, teaching and conflict resolution.

You can buy Love Stories from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW.

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