"Life is hell, but at least there are prizes. Or so one thought."
This is the line that made me fall in love with New Zealand writer Janet Frame, from her story "Prizes." Both because of its brilliance and because it was the first that I read. I discovered "Prizes" from the New Yorker Fiction podcast found here https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/fiction-podcast-miranda-july....
Many may have heard of Frame from the film based on her autobiography An Angel At My Table.
Along with "Prizes," another favourite story of mine is "Two Sheep"in which her voice alternates between fantasy and reality by using the fantastical to represent truth. As Kafka used insects to represent his relationship with his father, Frame used sheep sent to a slaughterhouse to represent the psychiatric facility, itself a form of social control and confinement. "Two Sheep" also made me think of Animal Farm; however, I think "Two Sheep" is more psychologically accurate in terms of the language games people play when under social control.
The psychological states resulting from trauma--the humour, denial, and dissociation--is something I also attempt to represent in my own writing.
"Prizes" and "Two Sheep" are both very different, yet both are uniquely Frame's voice. "Prizes" is largely an autobiographical account of Frame's childhood where she at one point compares herself to her classmates who were able to marry and have children but, unlike her, did not become writers.
Janet Frame has a sense of humour about death that can only come from a quirky personality and a tragic past. Her observations and descriptions about the world around her make me frequently go back to her. If she were a man, I think she'd be as well-known as Barthelme.
Many of her stories are available for free online, and the film is available on YouTube, but of course I recommend ordering a collection.
Unfortunately, her work isn't available in many libraries or bookstores.
Jill M. Talbot’s writing has appeared in Geist, Rattle, Poetry Is Dead, The Puritan, Matrix, subTerrain, The Tishman Review, The Cardiff Review, PRISM, Southword, The Stinging Fly, and others. She won the PRISM Grouse Grind Lit Prize, and was shortlisted for the Matrix Lit POP Award for fiction and the Malahat Far Horizons Award for poetry. She lives on Gabriola Island, BC.