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The Delicate Things We Make - Milena McKay

There’s a screenshot roaming around Twitter at the moment, where some bloke in America reckons that fellow writers are not your friends, but rather your competitors. Every now and then, an author grabs the image and absolutely debunks the statement with how much they love their fellow writers and how much of a support they are.

I’m about to debunk that silly statement as well, because below this is a pile of words about the amazing debut novel ‘The Delicate Things We Make’ and how eternally grateful I am that Milena McKay is a fellow writer-y friend-type person, and not my competitor, because oh my God wow.

Jamie Walker, an excellent, but down on her luck, journalist is given the task to investigate—actually find, as per the contract—the reclusive and incredibly anonymous artist, DeVor. Vivian DeVor is a force within the art and fashion world. With the sale of a single painting or sculpture, she can shape the entire season’s collections for all the fashion houses in Europe and America. She has power and yet nobody knows who she is. However, Jamie manages to do what others have failed to do—I’m not giving a spoiler there—and this throws open doors on a number of closets and no-one is prepared for the skeletons revealed.

One must be careful around delicate things; they can break if you’re not careful. McKay takes us on a journey that demonstrates that delicate things are fragile; a person can be broken very easily, when you think about it. To break someone’s spirit through actions unconscionable is to destroy. But delicate things can survive if they stand on a solid plinth, or are supported by a strong wall, or have love as a guide, particularly when all around them are forces designed to crush and control. I found myself glued to the page, which sounds mightily uncomfortable, and I curse McKay for my three o’clock in the morning lights out, because the book is immersive. It is clever how the immersion is present throughout the entire book. The first third of the book is about the chase, the blush of love and a hint to the possibilities left in the past, and could have been dealt with quite lightly. But McKay didn’t do that, because the entire journey needed significance. The story holds you, in that deep ocean of text, for the remainder where the link to the past solidifies and the old is renewed when the corrupt insidious world of fashion and publishing is exposed, where violation of power is currency, and love, like any big love, shifts as external pressures force it to alter its shape.

There’s a way of writing that some authors have where they swim into a pool of vocabulary, gather it in, and soak their sentences in only the beautiful words. McKay does that to precision. This novel has a depth, a solidity to it that initially comes from the word choices. There’s weightiness to the sentences which create layered paragraphs where a reader feels like they can hold them for a while and admire their structure. Yet, that sounds like the book is too robust. It’s not. There’s a fragility to the layers, something ethereal, that feels like if we look away, then something will break. It comes down to attention to detail. McKay has researched, and selected, and investigated, and found nuances from the world of publishing, fashion design, art, human rights, #metoo, statutes of law, that add to the story like the last infinitesimal brushstrokes of a painting. The word choices and the details ask you to pay attention…here. And here. Also here. Look at these words describing this. Do you see? Do you feel?

There are twenty-two chapters in this novel, and each has a title. A perfect title. They are as delicate as the art DeVor creates, as sharp as the knife’s edge of trust, as fragile as the lives cracked and broken. I pottered about the internet with a pair of quotation marks and McKay’s chapter titles, and I couldn’t find much in the way of references or reasons for their selection. I assume they appeared in McKay’s head, which leads me back to oh my God. But one I did know in my own head (yay, me) is the chapter title ‘The Oboe and the A Note’ - Chapter Five. That note you hear before an orchestra performance? That’s the A note from an oboe, and it’s the reference point for all the musical instruments so they can tune, and focus, and attend to the piece. It’s the clearest sound a person can hear. Chapter five? That’s the chapter when Jamie discovers DeVor’s location and the instruments—the past events, the people, the whys and what ifs—begin to turn their faces. Jamie’s played her note.

The delicate things we make indeed.



Thank you KJ, for this essay-thingy. I hold The Delicate Things We Make to be one of the dearest works of art I have had the pleasure of experiencing. Your essay brings some of the reasons why into focus. Now I get to treasure both Ms. McKay's masterpiece AND your observations/analysis of same. I just reread Delicate Things a couple of months ago, and you have made me want to reread it again. And what a treat for me, to be allowed to thank a favorite author for her thoughts about another favorite author's work.

Best regards,

Lisa Hood

Dallas, Texas, U.S.

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