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A Needle in the Heart

A Needle in the Heart cover

Short Stories — Vintage 2002 (op)

There are six stories in the book:
– A Needle in the Heart
– Silver-Tongued
– Families Like Ours
– Mr Blue Satin
– Soup

Most of the characters in this book have homely domestic backgrounds.

Story development: The long story form interests me a great deal. Chekhov was the great master, to whom I return again and again, just to see how he constructed his stories and maintained such delicate tension throughout them (“The Kiss” is my favourite). The Canadian writer Alice Munro has refined this technique wonderfully well in her contemporary stories. I marvel at the way she conveys whole life stories in narratives that take perhaps an hour to read. I’ve worked in this form on and off since the early 1980s, and last year published a whole collection of stories that range from 7,000 words to 20,000. Each story explores a moment of great change in a woman’s life.

 

What the critics said about A Needle in the Heart:

‘The first story ‘A Needle in the Heart’, starts at the races in 1925 with Queenie, who is getting too hot in her race day finery, but it quickly jumps a generation to Esme, her daughter, who brings in her own precious income with skilled dressmaking at home. She marries a railway signalman and they got to live in Railway Row in a small, claustrophobic central North Island town with a view of the mountain. When the emergency sirens to denote a railway accident go off in the town, Esme breaks a needle on her machine and a piece gets lodged in her thumb, Throughout the rest of her life she feels at times as if the needle is passing through her heart. It is the ordinariness of lives that Kidman renders dramatic, the daily suffocation that is suddenly replaced by a shattering letter, the subtle shifts of power in families as generations take each other’s place.’ Herald

‘Each story is rich in dialogue, characterization and evocative imagery of our heartland and its people’ Next

A footnote, however: this has been a surprisingly controversial book, given its themes. It upset the Listener‘s reviewer so much that she wrote:

‘Her stories take you by the neck, drag you down the nearest sidestreet and bludgeon you over the head with a crowbar. Then, just when you are about to lose consciousness, they snarl, “Admit it, scum. Admit that life stinks and that all men are bad and all women are unhappy.’

Funny that. Meanwhile, the reviewer for NZ Books said: ‘[Kidman] earns her place among the greats for the way she has surpassed her peers and influences to produce works authentically her own.’