review by Joe Vaz

Published by Umuzi
PB 144 pages
RRP R150 (Kindle £1.49

The furniture is made for children. The parents I need to see are the ones who never come. Most of them are overly interested, clutching their handbags. ‘Mister September,’ they say, making my title – a common one on the Flats – sound like a caption from a calendar. Or, if they are men, are stepfathers, mustached and overbearing, smelling of the aftershave that announces them. They show their teeth and say, in a joke that is not a joke, ‘You teachers. You have such nice lives. All those school holidays.’

From Issue 13 (Sept 2011)

DIANE AWERBUCK BURST ONTO the scene with her award-winning debut novel Gardening at Night, a semi-autobiographical book about growing up in Kimberly. Her second book, Cabin Fever, is a collection of short stories, and though none of them could be called horror in the classic sense of the word, they do often take the reader to some horrific places, reality is much more disturbing than fiction.

I think it obvious that, as an editor of a short fiction magazine, I have a soft spot for short stories, but I’m not going to mince words here. This is a fantastic book.

Awerbuck is an astounding writer, beautifully poetic and lyrical, and her ability to lead you inside her characters’ heads is both amazing, and sometimes, uncomfortably real. There are some thoughts no one should be allowed to hear; the truth that, when pushed into a corner, fear makes cowards of most of us, the heroes are few and far between. What I find so disturbing is how apathetic Awerbuck’s characters can be, allowing life to happen to them instead of affecting it. I guess we’re so used to the hero protagonist in our fiction that it is quite unnerving to see a lead character stand by and do nothing as someone is brutally killed, paralysed by her own fear. Awerbuck’s characters are closer to real life than most of us would like to admit, and the stories in Cabin Fever illustrate that extremely well.

The stories themselves are extremely varied, from a moment outside the Baxter Theatre between two potential young lovers who, with every breath, inch their way closer to one another, in the hope of stealing a kiss, or more, to a walk on Muizenberg beach during an attempt at breaking a surf record. In another, a pregnant woman struggles to deal with her drug-addict husband; a young stage hand remembers a summer spent with his older brother; a teacher carries her student’s secrets, helpless to do anything but provide solace. Each story feels like an extremely detailed photograph, describing a single moment in a character’s life, and like real life, you never know where you’re going to end up.

One of the things I loved about the stories in Cabin Fever is that one actually never knows how they are going to turn out until the last paragraph (sometimes the last line). I wish I could list some examples, but that would defeat the point, as I would reveal the endings. I found myself getting more and more uneasy with each story, never knowing how it would turn out.

In short, if you enjoy short fiction and beautiful character studies of how fragile and flawed humans beings can be, then Cabin Fever is the book for you. Highly recommended.

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Joe Vaz

Joe Vaz is the founder and editor of Something Wicked, which occasionally affords him the honour and good fortune to hang out with really cool people.
In his other life he is a film and television actor who gets small parts in big movies, most recently in Dredd 3D, due to be released in September 2012.

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