The Turning Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 46-page guide for “The Turning” by Tim Winton includes detailed story summaries and analysis covering 17 stories, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Sins of the Father and Adolescent Obsession.
The Turning is Tim Winton’s 2004 collection of short stories set primarily in the small Western Australia town of Angelus. The book won the Christina Snead Prize for Fiction and the Queensland Fiction Book Award. The seventeen linked stories in this collection explore themes of generational change, socioeconomic anxieties, and the lingering effects of trauma using the modes of 21st century realism.
The stories in The Turning take place over several decades of life in and around Angelus, Western Australia, and trace the lives of various characters, most of whom are directly connected to Vic Lang or his family. Though each story can be read on its own, considering the work as a whole reveals thematic and narrative links that heighten the impact and meaning. The stories are not presented chronologically, and Winton uses this to maximize the dramatic irony as he explores the decline of the town through the lens of the Lang family.
Vic Lang, his baby sister, and his parents, Bob and Carol, move to Angelus in the early 1970s when his father gets a job as a police officer. Angelus was once a whaling community, but the industry is in decline, as is the town. Vic is in his early teens at this time, and though his initial experience is fairly typical for a boy moving to a new town, he quickly starts to suspect something is wrong. His father becomes distant and starts drinking, and Vic is overtaken by anxiety; “Long, Clear View” and “Fog” recount this time from Vic and Bob’s viewpoints, respectively. Drugs and racial tensions in Angelus, as well as widespread police corruption, are taking a toll on the family, even though Vic is unaware of the exact cause of his anxiety.
Bob Lang abandons his family after his drinking becomes worse and he can no longer bear being quiet about the corruption at his job. One of the catalysts for this is the brutal beating of Boner McPharlin, a high-school troublemaker and outcast who is at the center of “Boner McPharlin’s Moll.” Another is the sudden death of Bob’s daughter by meningitis.
Bob is out of Vic and Carol’s life for nearly three decades, which has profound effects on who Vic grows up to be. At the same time, Vic is beginning to be interested in girls, and has unhealthy obsessions in his youth that linger into adulthood—“Abbreviation” is about his youthful sexual encounter with a sad young woman who lost her finger in a farming accident, and “Damaged Goods” sees Vic’s wife struggling to understand why he is still thinking about a girl he went to high school with who had a birthmark on her face.
When Vic’s mother is dying of cancer, she asks him to go find Bob, which he does in “Reunion.” Bob, sober and living in virtual exile for the last fifteen years, comes home briefly before falling into an open mineshaft two weeks later; statements in “Reunion” heavily imply that it was a suicide. All of this leaves Vic a wreck, and his story ends with his marriage strained and him trying to reckon with the watchful, anxious boy he has been all along.
There are stories in the collection that are more indirectly connected to the Lang family, most notably a three-story sequence that focuses on two brothers, Max and Frank. Max, the older brother, is an abusive drunk in “The Turning,” who terrorizes his wife Raelene and is suspicious of her new friendship with a Christian couple. His brother, Frank, is a football player who walks away from his career. “Sand” sees them as children, with Frank being bullied by Max during the summer when their mother leaves them, and “Family” is a story about the two of them reconnecting after both of their lives have fallen apart and the tragic shark attack that forces them back into brotherhood.
“Big World,” “Small Mercies,” and “Cockleshell” are all about characters who are on the outskirts of the central Lang storyline of the collection but provide context for the tragic decline of Angelus and the violence and disappointment that pervades the community. “Big World,” which opens the book, sets the tone by showing two high school graduates who have botched their exams and whose only goal is to buy a van and leave town. “Small Mercies” sees Peter Dyson moving back home after his wife’s suicide, only to be harried by an ex-girlfriend and recovering addict. “Cockleshell” focuses on another youthful obsession, as a boy, Brakey, falls in with Agnes Larwood, whose father is a recovering alcoholic, though his newfound sobriety hasn’t saved anyone.
As a whole, the stories document a painful transition in the lives of Angelus, and though the town is fictional, its trajectory mirrors that of many small communities in Western Australia. By focusing in on the issues these communities face, The Turning is a document of the way societal issues are intrinsically personal.