Like many of the best story tellers, Connie Fick is funny.
There are stories in Eye of a Needle And Other Stories that unfold like a Herman Charles Bosman stoep yarn. In “Belinda”, the Oom Schalk-like narrator tells the tale of a small town beauty who tamed a no-good layabout.
Some stories derive their humour from Fick’s keen observations: “Her buttocks jiggle as she sweeps, they juggle as she walks. Up, down, up, down. Other women’s may sway sideways, but hers goes up and down, singing a rhythmic song; one for you and one for me.” (“Flying Ants”)
Others from her pitch-perfect dialogue and demotic speech: “She didn’t even greet me properly. If you ask me she’s one of those people who show teeth, but in their hearts they say, ‘Mog jy vrek’.” (“Eye of a Needle”)
But Fick’s humour is mixed with pathos and the bitter bite of social commentary. After reading the forty stories in this collection you will look twice at the silent woman at a family gathering; at the old couple celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary; at the respectable man at a function with his daughter on his arm.
“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than it is for an older female to get respect,” one of Fick’s narrators remarks.
I was in Fick’s Masters in Creative Writing class at Rhodes University, and Eye of a Needle includes tales which explore or subvert a variety of genres including flash fiction, micro fiction, romance fiction, surrealism and science fiction. Fick is a scriptwriter for Takelane Sesame and includes an engaging story for children in Eye of a Needle.
Many of my favourite stories in this collection are absorbing narratives – often about marriages – which begin conventionally and then unravel into something else. Her prose is sparse and controlled, without being jerky or self-conscious. “One day she awoke and he was inside her body and her mind, filling eighty percent with his presence, edging her out. The weight of him changed her posture.” (Knit One)
Fick also experiments successfully with punctuation – omitting full stops in one story – and form. In a powerful piece of flash fiction, she uses a grocery list to hint at the fall out of marital infidelity (“The List”). In “Last Will” an ailing mother’s list of funeral instructions paints a nuanced, often humorous, portrait of a family matriarch.
In “Flying Ants” Fick deftly interweaves an encyclopaedia’s dry description of termites with the thoughts of a woman who – while watching the Big Brother reality programme – considers how her daughter has usurped her place in her husband’s affections.
In “Care Plan” Fick adopts the language from a nursing process guide to describe how to care for a man: “His care would be implemented at least twice in 24 hours, according to the plan. Continuity of care during their time together and in preparation for a long marriage was therefore assured. It would be documented in the relationship’s record. A professional care giver, she was selfless, nurturing, and prioritised others, abandoning self-care, managing the effects of an abused childhood through medication.”
Fick is a trained nurse and her inclusion of medical detail and nursing procedure makes stories like “DD goes to hospital” particularly rich and enjoyable.
Without self-pity or strident political grandstanding, Fick’s collection offers devastating insights into the complexities of human relationships during apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa – and the burden borne by women. They are stories that will make you laugh and and leave you stunned.