Small Mercies by Tim Winton
In Small Mercies by Tim Winton we have the theme of loss, connection, guilt, addiction and love. Taken from his The Turning collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realizes that Winton may be exploring the theme of loss. Peter Dyson has lost his wife due to a carbon monoxide accident. She has killed herself in the family car after struggling with post-natal depression. In many ways Peter blames himself for not being more attentive but the reality is there was very little that he could probably do. He had a job to go to and he had to help looking after Ricky, his son, but this does not relieve Peter of the guilt he is feeling about his wife’s death. So guilty is Peter that he decides to leave the city and move back into his mother’s old house. A town in whereby he had a relationship with another teenager called Fay when he was younger.
Faye is an important character in the story as she has the ability for Peter to feel guilty, if not embarrassed, about the things they done when they were young teenagers and if anything he is afraid to meet her again. This embarrassment is important as many young teenagers may feel embarrassed about their pasts, particularly their past with a member of the opposite sex. Peter is no different apart from the fact that the embarrassment plays on his mind and he has a genuine fear of seeing Fay again. It is also interesting that Peter does everything he can to make Ricky feel at home. Taking him swimming and hiking with one of Ricky’s friends. If anything Peter is trying his best to move on but he knows that Fay can drag him back into the past. Peter also has a strong desire to find a woman again. Something that is noticeable when he is swimming. The loneliness of being a widow is not something that suits Peter.
There may also be some symbolism in the story that might be important. As mentioned the women in the swimming pool remind Peter that he is a man and that he has needs. However these needs do not stretch as far as Fay. Who Peter is not interested in kindling a relationship with again. He knows that his number one priority is to Ricky and he wants to raise Ricky in a proper fashion. He is after all father and mother to Ricky. Fay gets somewhat cruel with Peter when she remains him of the abortion she had. Aborting Peter’s child because Peter did not want his mother to know about the pregnancy. As to whether this led to Fay’s addiction is difficult to say but a loss of life can have a devastating effect on another human being. If anything Fay is being spiteful when she raises the abortion and it is clear that she wants to hurt Peter just as she feels he is hurting her by not sleeping with her.
The end of the story is interesting as Fay does not appear to let go of the past. Reminding Peter how fragile her recovery is and how his not sleeping with her could lead her into a relapse. She has after all missed two meetings already and may be on the slippery path downwards. What is also interesting about the story is the fact that Fay has dreams but no way to meet them. She dreams of living in a house in the country, but has no money to buy the house and she dreams of sleeping with Peter again. Though as mentioned his number one priority is Ricky. Fay wanting to sleep with Peter could be significant for another reason. She may long for a time when she felt loved by another man. Her life after all at home is dysfunctional with her parents afraid that wants to take their granddaughter away from them.