Megan Taylor’s first collection of short stories in The Woman Under the Ground is both captivating and disturbing at the same time. All thirteen stories exhibit a brilliant foray into the slightly unseemly topics of our society. These include post-natal depression, childhood abandonment, infanticide and schizophrenia.
Fractured relationships are an important feature of each story, whether that be a mother trying to reconnect with her children (The Woman Under the Ground), a wife trying to reconnect with her husband in the face of insufferable loss (Maybe in America), or a young woman seeking atonement for a youthful transgression with a childhood friend (Rash).
At the heart of each story is a woman’s, or young girl’s, attempt to come to terms with an unfortunate problem that inhibits their personal growth in some way. Many of these stories explore self-revelation and the loss of childhood innocence. The Insect Room, School Run, My Secret Sister, and On The Island all focus on young girls who come from difficult family situations and how they cope with them, sometimes through drastic measures. Taylor deserves high praise for the way that she successfully conveys these problems and solutions through the eyes of a child.
Taylor has already firmly established herself as part of the gothic school of literature and there are some elements of this genre in two of her short stories. The actions of the protagonists in The Dining Room and Coach Trip are driven by paranormal activities. Both these stories are particularly chilling and leave one slightly discomforted upon their completion.
The praising can be rather awkward at times; the sheep had ‘strands of shit clinging on their frothy tails, like chewing gum’ was one in particular that made me wince a little, but Taylor is forgiven for otherwise displaying herself as a competent writer of complex and troubling issues.
Feminist literature has recently had something of a revival, indeed 2014 has been looked upon as the ‘Year of the Feminist’ holistically, and Taylor’s work is a fine contributor to this renaissance and people should watch out for what her next book brings. This is the first collection of short stories that I have read that deal solely with serious issues in terms of how they affect women. Very few of these stories – in fact almost none – have happy endings, but the problems these women face very rarely have happy endings unless help is sought out. The Woman Under The Ground is a must-read for readers who like to be challenged and provoked to think about serious subjects.