A Time to Dance is a compilation of stories, most of which are set in Northern Ireland. The three stories chosen each centre mainly around one or two central characters. The Daily Woman depicts the life of Liz, a mother who regularly suffers beatings from her husband and pursued by her boss, prostitutes herself for extra cash. Phonefun Limited tells us about two retired prostitutes who find a new way of making money by making a phone call and Father and Son explores the relationship between a father and son who have lost their wife and mother and are not able to cope with the situation.
In all three of these stories, there is a running theme of loneliness, with each of them showing how different people deal with such emotions. In Father and Son, both of the characters isolate themselves. They do not converse with each other and because of this isolation their relationship turns to a more hostile nature: My son, he is full of hatred. For me, for everything. He spits when he speaks. His son isolates himself by locking the door to his room because he believes that his “lousy” father isn’t strong enough to help him with his problems. What becomes obvious is that he feels threatened as well and therefore has a gun under his bed.
Alternatively in The Daily Woman Liz having just been beaten by her husband Eamonn, decides to treat herself at a hotel and fill the void, which even if she does, she knows will only be temporary. In Phonefun Limited, the “retired” prostitutes have never been in a serious relationship as they’re former line of work prevented them from doing this and they too are alone and deal with it by blocking and hiding their true emotions. We can clearly see in Father and Son that there has been a major breakdown in their relationship which is soon revealed to us: My mother is dead but I have another one in her place.
He is an old woman. This is similar to the relationship between Liz and Eamonn in The Daily Woman, but the cause of the breakdown there is unknown. Different techniques of characterisation are used in each of the stories. Phonefun Limited seems to mainly rely on the dialogue and their actions to portray the characters Sadie and Agnes: I’m the brains. You’re supposed to be the charm. I don’t have to smile. This is completely different to Father and Son in which the author uses the character’s thoughts and feelings (narrated in the eyes of both, giving us both perspectives) and the way they interact with each other:
I am in the dark of the landing. I must pray for him. On my bended knees I will pray for him to be safe. In The Daily Woman however, Maclaverty revolves the whole story around Liz, dictating everything from her perspective: She was nervous of him, not just because he was her boss, but because of the way he looked at her. There is no mention throughout the whole of the story of other character’s feelings or perspective and this is done intentionally, as it puts emphasis on all the ordeals Liz has had to go through and how each one of them is demoralising her even further.
All are written in such a way that it never strays from the central characters, and so help to emphasise more the point of the story. These two stories, The Daily Woman and Father and Son also have something else in common in that both of their titles are very misleading. From The Daily Woman and Father and Son, it seems to promote and idea that the story will be pleasant and light, but in fact both are the complete opposite. On further analysis of the title The Daily Woman, it becomes even more disturbing that this woman, Liz experiences something like this on a near ‘daily’ basis.
The relationship between the characters in these two stories, between the father and son and Liz and Eamonn are even quite similar. There is a hostile feeling between them in each, stronger in Father and Son, but strangely to The Daily Woman, Liz feels sorry for Eamonn. The person being affected the most is the father and Liz, who have obviously tried or are trying to make amends but the son and Eamonn refuse, probably because they both consider that to accept and give in would be a sign of weakness.
A form of violence also occurs in both relationships, Liz gets beaten by her husband and the son and the father both have weapons with them close to their bed: The door swings open and he pushes a hand-gun beneath the pillow. And: By your bed a hatchet which you pretend to have forgotten to tidy away. These two extracts both support the idea that the state of their relationship is now so bad that they feel threatened by each other. These relationships are completely the opposite of that in Phonefun Limited, in which Sadie and Agnes are best friends, who seem to have no hidden agendas or feelings.
The topics of sex, violence and prostitution occur both in The Daily Woman and Phonefun Limited. There is also quite a strong irony that Sadie and Agnes, the real prostitutes are shielded from the violence which Liz is receiving even though Liz is not a prostitute. Phonefun Limited is quite poignant in these matters and is the only one out of the three stories in which comedy is used: Dear Samantha, you really turn me on with that sexy voice of yours. Not only me but my wife as well. Sometimes it’s too much for the both of us.
Whereas, in The Daily Woman Maclaverty tends to write in an almost depressing tone, emphasising the seriousness of Liz’s situation and also reflecting upon her feelings: She examined her face, touching it with her fingertips. It had not bruised. He must be losing his touch. This is also found in Father and Son in which the author promotes the awkward and hostile relationship by the writing technique in both the narration and the direct speech, with the use of short and abrupt sentences: Every day you think I am dead. You live in fear. Of your own death.
The fact that the person narrating changes continuously throughout the story adds to this effect. The end result of Father and Son causes the reader to feel pity for the father who has just lost his son. The end echoes something he said earlier in the story about him wanting to ‘put [his] arms around [him]’ It is rather ironic that the father, having wanted to put his arms around his son for such a very long time, has only been able to do it the once, when his son is dead. The Daily Woman has a similar ending in which you also pity Liz, because of what she will without a doubt eventually have to go through again with her husband.
Each story uses different writing techniques, forms of characterisation and uses of language because each story serves as a different purpose. Phonefun Limited is a story which is to entertain by taking a comical view at the life of two ‘retired’ prostitutes. However The Daily Woman and Father and Son take a far more serious form to shock the reader as well as educate them about what can happen in these extreme situations. The three stories each take fairly and sometimes very different approaches to convey their message or point and all three manage to do it very successfully.