I chose two short story collections and her latest novel, The Spider, for this essay. Each book, while distinct and original, shares the themes stated above as well as irony, interesting perspectives, and humor.
In Delusions and Dreams, a collection of short stories, Savva explores the inner workings of her main characters’ thought processes. In an ingenious technique, the title story is told from three different perspectives. In the first one, we meet Jack, a broken man obsessed with a former college classmate. He watches Jessie come and go from her residential building and imagines the ideal life she must lead. Because his life has changed so much since their college days, he’s certain the object of his desires does not even notice or recognize him.
Jack’s internal dialog expresses his inner turmoil: “I want to approach her and tell her who I am. Under this beard, she would never know me. After the years that have passed between us, she’s probably forgotten what I look like without the beard anyway; and I used to look so different then, as a teenager, before life took away my sparkle.”
However, when Savva revisits “Delusions and Dreams Part II,” we meet the real Jessie, not the idealized version that Jack dreamt up. It becomes evident that Jack’s obsession is linked with his longing to recapture his younger, promising days through her. However, when we probe into Jessie’s inner thoughts and life, we learn that she is struggling to merely keep her head above water.
In “Delusions and Dreams Part III,” Savva introduces us to another former classmate of Jack’s named Frances. In this scenario, Frances recognizes Jack, but he has trouble remembering her. The once awkward girl with a bad perm and ugly glasses is now unrecognizable to Jack. He was one of the boys who gave her kind of a hard time. Frances, now an overwhelmed housewife and mother married to a successful restaurateur, is in a position to offer assistance to downtrodden Jack.
In “Delusions and Dreams Part IV,” the final installment, we go back to Jack’s perspective as he reflects on Frances and her offer while Jessie remains ever present in his world… and in his delusions and in his dreams. All of the characters are grappling with their own place in life, their lost youth, and their dreams.
Savva revisits the idea of recapturing younger days in one of the subplots in her latest novel, The Spider. Glen, a chauvinistic bachelor who refuses anything resembling a committed relationship with a woman, truthfully pines for his old college girlfriend. When they do finally connect through Facebook, he is initially stunned and disappointed by the change that a rough, drug-fueled life has brought on her. When he arrives at her door, he thinks he has the address wrong. “Glen stood dumbfounded. This was Petula? She looked nothing like herself.”
He then has to decide if it is true love he’s carried around for her all of this time.
In another story in the Delusions and Dreams collection, “Friends and Neighbors” and “Friends and Neighbors Revisited,” Savva switches perspectives again. After a man and woman, Joe and Stacy, scam an elderly neighbor in “Friends and Neighbors,” we get to become a fly on the wall and eavesdrop on this unscrupulous pair in “Friends and Neighbors Revisited.” Again, Savva achieves this mainly through the inner dialog of the characters.
We learn how deluded Stacy is. While she goes along with the schemes, her reasons are motivated more by lust than greed. “She wished he would pay her more attention. The only reason she’d agreed to get involved in this get-rich-quick scheme was because she had fallen head over heels for his model looks.” The story takes an even darker turn as we delve more into Joe’s psyche.
While Joe and Stacy can be boiled down to common criminals, moral ambiguities present themselves in Savva’s fiction through characters rationalizing dubious ways and schemes to achieve financial security. In one of the stories in Delusions and Dreams, titled “Getting Away with it,” postman Scott realizes he can win a million pounds if he doesn’t deliver the potential prize-winning scratch cards on his postal route. He’ll simply hide the envelopes containing the cards in the safety of his home, and then pore through all of them until he finds the winner. A man who normally lives an upstanding life, he battles his conscience over this bold decision: “For the past ten years he’d worked as a postman. Through rain and snow he had delivered the mail. “He’d always wished for something better.” Then the possible ramifications set in: “But I could end up behind bars. What if someone found out?”
Then he rationalizes back to the benefits of this potential scam: “Lots of people win the lottery and never claim it. The person who was picked to win this million might never claim it. It’s better for it to go to someone who really wants it.”
Another story from Delusions and Dreams, “Michaela,” tells the story of an office clerk, Melody, who watches a program on Romanian gypsies feigning poverty, begging in the streets, and returning to luxury homes. While Melody initially disagrees with the scam, the program plants a seed in the back of her head. Then she sees one such person, Michaela, in action on the streets of London. She marvels at how easy it is. As she contemplates her own life, this alternative way of making a living grows more and more appealing. “I work hard every day and look at where I’m living, a poky flat mortgaged to the hilt, that I’ll never be able to pay off ever!”
The same compulsion to find an easier way to live motivates Glen in The Spider to check out the foreboding house on Goldfern Road. Rumors abound that people enter the house and never exit. An idea takes hold in his mind. Given the house’s history, he figures that he and best friend George could buy the house at a bargain, fix it up, and split the profits. He’s already dismissing the possible validity of the odd happenings at the house. “You know how the news exaggerates everything, George. A homeless man goes missing, a group of squatters—those people live under the radar anyway; no one would know where they are. They prefer it that way. Probably wanted to go missing and escape some crime, so they used the house as a cover.”
Glen’s single-minded focus on his get-rich-quick scheme sets off a series of horrific, life-changing experiences that alter many people’s lives. He ignores serious concerns about the mysterious house because he can’t let go of his dream.
In the simply titled 3, a collection of three short stories, choices the characters made in childhood haunt them into their adulthood. In “Never to be Told,” Tom’s childhood dare brings forth tragic consequences. Escaping the time and place does not unshackle Tom from his tortured memories, especially when a budding relationship brings the tragedy to the forefront. Tom contemplates: “Trauma became a living, breathing life partner. The sense of guilt grew year by year. His conscience continued to blame him, adding chains to his back, like those carried by Marley’s ghost in A Christmas Carol.”
In “What the Girl Heard,” from the same trilogy, we are introduced to Victoria. Victoria is a young woman haunted by a decision she made—or, more aptly put—did not make when she learned of a domestic violence situation in her neighborhood. Savva takes us into Victoria’s tormented, conflicted inner dialog. “Too afraid to tell anyone what had happened, the events remained locked inside her head where they repeatedly replayed and hounded her. Guilt and self-reproach were constant companions.”
Like Tom in “Never to be Told,” Victoria is forced to face her decision from childhood, and she must revisit the shattering scene that played before her.
A different kind of internal agonizing plays out in another of the subplots in The Spider. Roisin struggles throughout the book with choices brought on by temptation and infidelity. Even after she makes her decision, her conscience is never clear, as she remains conflicted about the ramifications of her choice. She’s no longer happy with her husband, but more importantly, she’s got a young son to think about. “It was becoming harder to lie to George, and she often found herself feigning affection, perhaps due to guilt. She knew, deep down, it would make it more difficult for him to let go of her now that she was being so nice to him.”
Savva’s thought-provoking fiction is also entertaining. Her evocative writing style is clear and straightforward as her characters tackle complex dilemmas. The dark, sometimes disturbing plots and characters are balanced with humor, believability, and relatable conflicts. She’s a prolific author, and I look forward to reading more of her work.
For more on Maria Savva and her work, visit her website at mariasavva.com.