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Short Story Analysis - 'The Turning' by Tim Winton

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Rachael Joyce

on 4 November 2013

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Transcript of Short Story Analysis - 'The Turning' by Tim Winton

Short story analysis
'The Turning'
by Tim Winton
The Turning is a collection of short stories written by renowned Australian writer Tim Winton. It includes 17 short stories. Within these stories common themes, locations and characters are present in some, allowing the reader to make connections between the short stories. This presentation is focused on three of these included stories, entitled 'Long, Clear View', 'Reunion' and 'Fog'. These stories all involve the story of Vic Lang, and his life and relationships.
'Long, Clear View'
Long, Clear View presents us with the story of Vic Lang, the new kid in town, son of a cop. The fact that the story is in the second person singular allows us to view things from his point of view, and makes the story more directed and personal, as well as helping us to understand Vic’s feelings and his actions. There is no direct dialogue, and this also gives us a more one-sided view of events, and makes us feel almost disconnected from the rest of Vic’s world, while being connected to Vic through his experiences that we as the readers share.
In the short story directly after ‘Long, Clear View’ in the collection ‘The Turning’ we re-visit Vic Lang, many years later, from the point of view of his wife, Gail. This story is in the first person, which allows us to create a special connection with Gail, and her views and feelings. The story is told in the past tense, which gives it a sense of reflection.
This story focuses on Vic Lang’s father, Bob Lang. It is told in the third person. This allows us to see the story through an unbiased point of view. In this story, however, we are only privy to what Lang is thinking, though it is in the third person.
By Rachael Joyce
Vic arrives in town knowing no one, and at first feels “invisible” to the rest of the town. He feels he is missing a piece to the puzzle as it were, or if he has missed something that happened that leaves him out of the loop. Vic is treated with suspicion within the town, perhaps as a result of being the son of a policeman, or possibly just because he is new in town. The “locals have a way of talking across [him] rather than to [him]” and treat him “as if [he] already knows too much”. This secrecy may suggest that these people are hiding something, or may just highlight Vic’s already obvious paranoia.

Vic obviously looks up to his father as a role model, and clearly values their relationship very highly. However, his father’s job means that Vic doesn’t get to spend much time with him, and we find that Vic feels alone, or lonely when he cannot be with his father. Vic develops this obsession with his father’s rifle, that is hidden in Vic’s parents’ room. He takes it out, not to shoot, but to feel the smoothness of it. It seems to calm him, and to help him when he feels alone. Winton tells us how Vic loves the rifle, he says, “you know it’s old and ugly, yet you care about it the way you cares for your dog , the kind of ravaged mongrel strangers will cross the street to avoid. You love it because it’s yours.” It is also suggested that the reason that Vic loves the rifle, is because of the connection it gives his to his father. Throughout the story, we are told of memories that Vic has with his father, of going out shooting together. This helps us to make the link between Vic, the rifle, and Vic’s father.
In the town Vic “tries to fit in, but for weeks it’s useless”. it appears that he is too paranoid, and too on edge to ever fall into the rhythm of town life. He lies awake at night “hearing more than [he] wants to” and keeps watch when he feels out of control. However, somehow he just forgets. Vic forgets to keep watch, he forgets the rifle, “and, without noticing, [he] becomes familiar.” The town feels normal to him “for longer and longer stretches”. Life goes on in the town, and Vic gets used to his life in the townhouse.
Then things start to change. The school is lit on fire, and people start talking to Vic, asking him about the fire, and what he knows, because he must know something. We see people using Vic for information, trying to pry things out of him, things that he doesn’t know. WE see that he is mature enough to respect his father for not disclosing the information. This tells us something about Vic’s personality as well, and how much he values his relationship with his father.
After this, more things happen. At Vic’s school social “kids are acting weird”, a girl is found dead in the toilet, and then the next morning, a boy is found hanging in his own wardrobe. It is unclear as to whether these things are just happening now, or whether Vic is only just noticing them. Vic develops an obsession, almost, for trouble. This could be as a result of his father’s job, that he sees so much death, crime and suffering. Once he first noticed it, he could not ignore it anymore. Winton states “you know you’re waiting so intently for trouble that you’re making trouble happen.” This suggests that the trouble that is occurring is somehow Vic’s fault, through his anticipation for the troublesome events. Vic may blame himself for ‘forgetting’ to keep watch, or even just for fitting in.

From then on Vic sees everything, all the pain and secrecy that engulfs the seaside town, and all the trouble that he may or may not be responsible for. When Winton writes “two kids drown. There’s a rollover on the coast road. A girl has her stomach pumped. On the wharf, a man in bashed until his nose comes away from his face. There’s a rash of overdoses of needles, of nighttime calls. There’s no days off for the old man, no fun, no respite, no weekends away or drives out to farms to ping tins off tree stumps.” the use of short sentences to describe violence, crimes and suffering makes them abrupt and almost as if they are being reported, rather than experiences by Vic. The fact that the reference to Vic’s father not having days off comes after all these examples of suffering likens Vic’s suffering to those of the victims in these events. It insinuates that Vic not being able to see his father is as bad as all these occurrences.
Suddenly, Vic’s father has been transferred, to a temporary posting “a hundred miles away”. Vic is distraught. So much so that he kicks the dog down in tears, the one that he loves because it’s his. This shows how much Vic loves his father, that the dog that he loves so much means less to him than being with his father. Before his father leaves he says to Vic “I just need you to be responsible.” Vic takes this to heart, and starts taking care of everything. He takes care of his sister and mother, and of the house, and is “a good boy” as his mother calls him, and still his father doesn’t come home. We see that Vic is working to bring his father home, and he believes that it is his responsibility to protect his mother, sister and their family and home. When his mother goes out, Vic keeps a lookout from his parents’ bedroom. From there he has a “long, clear view” and sees all the lies and deceit that is occurring around him. Winton writes of “stealing, cheating and lying” and then states that “it’s as if things like these are suddenly ordinary”. In doing this, we see Vic’s disconnection from the rest of the world, and his obvious mistrust of all those passing him by. Winton states “you can’t believe how close you came to fitting in here”. This suggests that some of the blame for these goings on could be placed upon Vic for letting them happen, or for ‘almost’ fitting in.
Vic uses the gun as his safe place; he nurses it and cradles it when his mother is not home. Winton states that Vic checks the safety bolt again and again for “piece of mind”. This creates a certain ambiguity, as the saying ‘peace of mind’ refers to something that eases anxiety, and this is what the gun does for Vic, however, by using piece instead of peace, Winton insinuates that the gun is a ‘piece’ of Vic’s mind, which, indeed it is as well, as it becomes his obsession, and his getaway.
One day his mother leaves Vic suddenly, to ‘sort something out’. She leaves Vic with his little sister, and Vic takes up his usual lookout place in his parents’ room, and gets the rifle. Winton writes ‘responsibility is on you now, formless and implacable as gravity” as if Vic is finally accepting that he must not give up, and cannot stop until everyone is safe. Winton writes “you can hold out for as long as it takes to have everyone home safe, returned to themselves and how things used to be. You cock your weapon.”

In order to understand the bigger picture in this story, we must take a step back, and try to see it through an unbiased point of view. This story addresses the issue of crime and violence in everyday life, and how it is overlooked as just something that happens, rather than something to be stopped. It also gives a voice to the ‘invisible’ people in society, and suggests that these people have things to say, and their insights, may give us a different point of view from which we can view the world.
Vic, Gail and Carol, Vic’s mother are having Christmas lunch together, when Carol announces that Vic’s uncle and aunt, from his father’s side have invited the three of them over for a family reunion. We discover that Vic’s father disappeared decades ago, and after reading ‘Long, Clear View’ we can assume that this had a massive impact on Vic’s life especially. He seems reluctant, at first, to venture to this reunion, as since his father had disappeared, his father’s side of the family had shunned Carol, and blamed her for his disappearance. In the end, Vic agrees to go, for the sake of his mother.
As they drive to Cleo and Ernie’s house, the narrator, Gail speaks of her relationship with Carol, her mother-in-law. She describes their relationship as not hostile but “often strangely cool” with “a distance that couldn’t be bridged” and “a civility that bewildered all of us, Vic in particular”. By using the word “bewildered” to describe Vic’s feelings about the relationship between his mother and his wife, Winton suggests that Vic has a lack of control over this situation, something that he usually would not accept. From ‘Long, Clear View’, we know that Vic likes to be in control, and take responsibility for things, and with this relationship, it is obvious that he cannot control how these two people feel about each other. The same goes for the situation in which they are in at the time. Vic could not control the disappearance of his father, nor could he control the reaction of his father’s family, which may be why he approaches the reunion with caution.
Gail speculates on Carol’s life outside motherhood, and sees that she finds it hard to picture Carol as anything but a mother in life. She describes Carol as a “substantial” person. In writing this, Winton credits mothers everywhere for raising children. He is addressing the fact that women may not be getting recognition for their hard work, even if it is not traditionally recognised as work, rather, just something that needed to be done. And while this is true, raising children is necessary to keep the world developing, here, Winton recognises the “substantial people” in the world for raising children. In saying “people” rather than women, Winton creates an unbiased way of crediting those who raise children. Gail then goes on to speak about how she feels defensive in Carol’s presence, as she herself was not a mother yet, and therefore that meant that she “had no purchase”. By writing this, Winton may be addressing the issue of women’s rights, and may be trying to suggest that women do indeed have “purchase” even without bearing children.
When they arrive at the house, it is implied that the house is larger and grander than that of Vic, Gail or Carol, and this intimidates them in a small way, as it suggests that these people are worth more than them. Though the house seems empty after knocking, the three of them continue through the garage into the backyard to check if anyone is home. They discover the backyard and pool empty, and Carol slips, and falls into the pool. Gail decides to join her and jumps in with a “spritz of trespass bubbling through [her] limbs”. Vic is about to jump in to the pool and join them, when it occurs to him that it might not even be the right house. The fact that Vic does not jump in the pool while Carol and Gail are both in the pool, it highlights the distance between Vic and the relationship of Carol and Gail.
Vic discovers that they are, in fact, in the wrong house, and they rush to get out of there. As they are leaving they see Ernie and Cleo in the driveway of the house across the road. Embarrassed enough, Vic, Gail and Carol hightail it out of there, before they are noticed.
When they arrive home, Vic opens a bottle of champagne and pours himself a glass. When Carol asks for a glass we discover that she doesn’t drink, however with Gail on her side, she convinces Vic to pour her some. This, once again, highlights the distance between Vic and Gail and Carol, and their relationship. Carol refers to ‘Bob’ being an alcoholic, and we assume that Bob is Vic’s father.
Gail begins to talk to Carol about her childhood, and her parents, and she says “the church did soak up all their time and attention. But with [the children]... I don’t think they ever got interested”. This agitates Vic, and upsets him, and the more Gail talked “the more agitated he got”. Gail states that while she had forgiven them for being “vain, careless people” the was no reason for him to, but, she says, Carol could understand. When Carol states that “[Vic] gets upset on [her] behalf” and that he “has to defend everybody” we are reminded of Vic in his childhood, where he felt it was his duty to protect his family from anything and everything. It seems that this need to protect and take care of the people he loves has not disappeared, and may have even been heightened by the disappearance of his father.
Carol and Gail begin to talk about Bob, and immediately Vic goes silent, showing us that his father’s disappearance is still a sensitive topic, even though it happened “decades” ago. This proves that it did, in fact, affect him badly, and is still affecting him years later. This reflects how he felt about his father in ‘Long, Clear View’.
Vic speaks, and says “family, it’s not a word, it’s a sentence”. Here, Winton is saying that every family is complicated, and no one family could claim to be straightforward, or without complications. However, at the end of the day, the is a connection that brings every family together, and that is each other. At the end of the story, Gail reflects that she and Carol had finally “forgot the man between [them] and made some headway” into their relationship, and into creating their family.
Lang is sitting in his police car, on duty, filling in time so that he could get back to the station just in time for the change of shift. When this story is set, Lang and his family had been in the new town for 10 months. The job he had taken is described as a “plum posting”, and easy work, however a few weeks after arriving there, Lang had begun to feel uneasy about the men who he was working with. He sensed secrecy within the workplace, and “arrangements and alliances he wasn’t privy to”. Little did he know that his son, Vic, was feeling the exact same way about the people living in the town, as displayed in ‘Long, Clear View’. These feelings of uneasiness and secrecy surrounding both Bob and Vic reflect their similarities and the connection that they share.
Over his radio, Lang hears about a lost hiker, who he then has to go and find, as he is still on duty. Here, Winton states that Lang wouldn’t be home for dinner. This could be referencing the fact that it was Lang’s job that took him away from his family, and not only would he not be home for dinner, he would be transferred as a result of his job, and eventually would disappear.
Lang starts a group search in the mountains where the hiker fell, and then splits up from the group when they decide to spread out more. He gets paired with an eighteen year old journalist called Marie. Lang gets a hunch of where to find the missing hiker, and he and Marie start off down that path. Soon they have been engulfed by the dense vegetation, and have lost sight of all the other searchers. However, Lang presses on, and Marie is too naive to realise that they are in fact lost. Lang knew he should turn back, and find the others, but he felt that he had something to prove, not only to Marie, but also to himself. “That he was a policeman, someone you could trust.” Lang may have felt out of control, and almost useless in his new job, and this situation gave him the opportunity to prove that he was able to work hard, and that he was someone you could, and should, trust. It may have also been to set himself apart from the other policemen who he felt were untrustworthy.
Lang considers Marie while they rest. This is her first weeks as a journalist and she is eager to get a story. Lang describes her as like a “school prefect”, which suggests that she thinks she has more power and control than she actually does. They find the hiker unconscious and with two broken legs. The first thing Marie does when she sees him is take a photo. This angers Lang, “shoot first, he thought, and ask questions – you’ll go far, love.” It appears that Marie is more excited for the prospect of a front page news story than concerned for the injured hiker. Here, Winton could be talking about the attitude of the general public to news and fame, that these things are more important than, for example, the welfare of others.
Lang suggests to Marie that one of them should stay with the hiker while the other goes back to the search party to find some help, however Marie balks at the idea, and refuses to go, or let Lang leave her by herself. He gets Marie to stand on top of a rock and yell, and while she does, he thinks of the bottle of brandy that he has stashed in his coat and considers taking a swig. However, Lang realises what the implications of being caught drinking on the job by a journalist would be, and he is disgusted with himself. Winton could be trying to say here that everyone has secrets, or something hidden away from others, and if they were discovered, the consequences would affect only those to whom the secret was privy.
The radio stops working and it looks like Marie and Lang are there for the night. While they wait, Lang tells Marie about a boy who got hit by a bus while Lang was on duty. There were 12 kids waiting there with him while they waited for an ambulance, but the boy died in Lang’s arms. “You’re in uniform. People expect you to do something. But you can only wait.” Winton, here may be addressing the fact that people are so reliant on police officers, and others who are in uniform. Here, he is saying that they are just normal people too. They can’t magically solve all problems referred to them, and they have feelings too. Here, Lang was saying how hopeless and guilty he felt after this incident. “You never get used to it.” he says.
Marie asks Lang if he believes in God. His response – “wish I didn’t.” comes across to her as strange. However, what Lang may be suggesting is that if he didn’t believe in God, he could easily forget the bad things that happened to him; however, as he does believe in God, he thinks that there has to be a reason for these things that are happening, and that’s harder than pretending that there’s not.
The story ends with Lang and Marie laying either side of the injured hiker in an attempt to keep him warm. Lang lies there, predicting the outcome of the situation. He plans to set up Marie’s camera so that the flash goes of intermittently once the fog clears to lead the search party to them. Marie, he thinks, will get over her fear, as she will get her story. “She’d have her victim, her ordeal, her stoic hero. It’d be a great story, a triumph, and none of it would be true.” In writing this last passage, Winton addresses the issue of deception in the media, and how nearly everything that we read is biased and angled to make it more dramatic and interesting than it really is. This brings up the issue of how much we rely upon the media for truth in reports, and how they can be twisted to the advantage of whichever media outlet is producing them. However, in saying this, Marie is how the media is represented in this story, and she is portrayed as naive and almost innocent, however corrupted at the same time. This insinuates that the media is corruptive and leads people astray, but also that sometimes when things are published or released, the full consequences may not in fact be realised at all.
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