18+ One "ordinary Monday morning", an image invades 67-year-old Abel Marvin's thoughts as he swims his regular laps: the "twisted, burned-out hulk of a wheelchair with two welded, gaping red and black skeletons". It's a scene that's haunted Abel for most of his adult life, and he buries his face in the water to drown it. But Abel's breathing becomes forced, and pain enters his chest. Finally, he realises he is dying but feels "warm comfort" at the prospect of finally ridding his memory of the "burned relic with the fused skeletons".
However, before death can take Abel, the spirit of a white-clad nurse appears and announces: "You can't exit yet, mate, have you given a full account of yourself?" His breathing becomes easier, and his pain settles. Abel finds himself sitting in his old Mini, surrounded by "swirling steam", revisiting the people and places from his earliest childhood memories, to his young adult and middle-aged years, on a quest to give a full account of himself.
Stream of Consciousness
Leon Silver's Sweeties is a stream-of-consciousness narrative with flowing sentences, few paragraph breaks and no chapters. It is a short work of fiction but feels much longer, and I found myself totally engrossed in the story of Abel's haphazard life, lived like playing a pinball machine: "Pull the pin, hear the ping, silver ball bounce and ding." The ball is constantly put back into play. But all Abel wants is for the ball and his life to drain from the table.
Abel's Granny Annie supplies the novel's title. After meals, she would produce a large tray of sweet cakes and biscuits, introducing it as: "A plate of sweeties to balance out the nasties of life". The joy of "sweeties" remains a constant in Abel's life, though he learns "even the most gigantic plate will not balance out the nasties", including the grizzly deaths of his best friends, fellow members of the pinball playing, "Pinnie Gang", George and Roma.
Back Cover Spoiler
When I finished Sweeties, I turned to the back cover and learned Abel was in a coma in the book. Reading the narrative, I had imagined Abel's life flashing before his eyes as he neared death in the pool; nonetheless, both scenarios work for me.
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Leon Silver has written an entertaining tale that carries the reader through a man's life in one long engaging verse. Sweeties is a reminder of the pinball-game nature of life, with its random bumps and bonus scores.
And that a man can be a hero and not a saint.
© 2017 Robert Fairhead
N.B. You might like to read other book reviews on Tall And True.
This review was published by Writing NSW in May 2017. Sweeties' stream-of-consciousness narrative and flowing prose reminded me of Jack Kerouac's On the Road. And some nights, after reading the book at bedtime, it had me reliving my own life in my dreams!
A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com. He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.
Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story, and in 2021 Twelve Furious Months, twelve short stories written for the Furious Fiction writing competition.
Outside of writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, walking his dog, and watching Aussie Rules Football with his son.
He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.