Books : The Desolation Angel, by Tim Wilson
What do you get when an expat journalist writes a collection of short stories? One sharp and sexy read – no joke. Tim Wilson is TVNZ’s United States correspondent based in New York, and this is his secondbook. Wilson’s debut novel, Their Faces Were Shining, was about a woman relearning how to love during the Rapture. With equal confidence, Wilson continues to write about despair and hope in The Desolation Angel.
The twelve stories that make up The Desolation Angel were written over a period of twenty years, which is amazing considering how cohesively the book reads from beginning to end. For the most part, the stories are about people making messes of their lives. The book has a complex and contemporary cast of characters. An obsessed woman breaks into her ex-lover’s apartment to find a sex tape he’d made of her.
Another woman hides under her married lover’s bed when his wife arrives home, with surprising consequences. One man challenges a female coworker to a boxing match, while another tries to fix his dysfunctional relationship by buying a vacuum cleaner.
The stories are also about sex, or the sexual desperation that stale relationships and bad choices bring. There are affairs, divorce, brawls, pornography, and an alcoholic game-show host. This is great reading: not many books look at sex from so many emotional angles. It is tempting to read the book as a comment on American society, but a story about a businesswoman returning to New Zealand is equally fraught. She’s found money but not love, and her family sees her as a failure.
Toward the middle of the book I was wondering if all of Wilson’s characters would have bitter endings, but there is more than desolation in these stories. Many hint at redemption, and as the characters mess up they learn about themselves. ‘Suits’, a story about the mental collapse of a businessman, comes off as hopeful. In another story a father holds his sleeping son and thinks, “How wonderful the world was, how full of possibility!”.
The most surprising story is the last of the collection. Told from an old man’s point of view, we learn about his relationship with his wife, their inability to have a child, and her descent into Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a touching tale: tender and unexpected.
The Desolation Angel will be enjoyed by both men and women, especially as Wilson is disarmingly convincing when writing as a woman. It’s a modern, satisfying, and voyeuristic read. Each story has the perfect pace of a joke, and it’s hard not to cheer on the cast of dysfunctional but all too familiar characters.