A J Kirby is an award winning writer of two published
novels: Bully and The Magpie Trap.
with A J Kirby.
ghostly breath chills the air and fills it with my brooding presence. I
watch him betray me over and over again. I watch him sully the sheets
of our bed. I watch him at his weakest moments..."
Reviewed by Alex Thornber
you have ever made a mix tape for someone, you were probably trying
to coerce him or her into liking some of your music. If so, you play it
safe, ease the listener in with some accessible music that wont scare
them off before you surprise them with the slightly weirder songs
A.J Kirby's Mix Tape is
somewhat different. The first story in this collection, A Day In The Life,
is about a man named Donovan who may or may not be teetering on the
edge of sanity. Told through correspondence between Donovan, an
acquaintance and a psychologist, Kirby depicts the life of a man who
wouldn't be out of place in a Bukowski story. He is offensive,
especially towards women, and believes that he is the most important
person in the universe.
It is not entirely clear who this Donovan actually is; it is hinted
that he is famous but that piece of information could be from Donovan's
altered view of himself. He also seams to believe that he has control
over the fate of humanity, however this is also not clear. Kirby
successfully manages to give each of the three characters a distinctly
different style and tone in their e-mails, which makes it very easy and
interesting to read. It does however feel like a fairly limiting style
for a story this complex because in the end it is almost impossible to
discern what has happened or why. Yet, one could argue that none of the
characters seem to understand what is happening and all that is
unclear, or that Kirby leaves out, works magnificently to put the
reader into the story.
It is a somewhat risky selection for the opening of a collection
because Kirby's achievement in making his characters writing styles
distinctly different could be off-putting; the first page displays the
fumbled spellings and confused sentences of protagonist Donovan.
Regardless of this though it is a risk that paid off, as we are,
without warning, put right in front of a wholly baffling and
excellently written story that burrows into your memory and forces you
to want more.
Like all good mix tape makers who sneak in the key song they really
want their listener to love, Kirby slips an absolute gem of a story at
the opening of Side B. Skeleton in
the Closet is a darkly disturbing assault on the imagination;
the equivalent of a song you'll be humming for months, Skeleton is a story that won’t soon
leave your mind. This little story is intense, creepy and reeks of the
From the view point of a mistreated ex-partner, Kirby forces us to
voyeuristically watch a man living his life, everything from simply
staring out the window to stopping in the middle of sex to write. Kirby
magnificently personifies the metaphor of having skeletons in one's
closet, giving a unique and twisted angle to the phrase. The story
tracks the thoughts and observations of the nameless, more or less
completely unknown, skeleton which jumps between compassion and
contempt for the events which play out in front of her. Kirby's
description and heartbreaking phrases force us to feel like we too are
crouching in that closet. It is deeply unnerving and wonderfully
Overall Kirby's Mix Tape is
aptly named, for not every story in here will please everyone but every
one is written brilliantly. Kirby has a great talent for writing well
across genre boundaries and therefore has something special to offer
readers with wide and varying tastes.