by Mark Brown
Brace, edited by
Jim Hinks is the latest in a series of anthologies published by Comma
Press, the English not-for-profit publishing initiative.
Comma is committed to promoting short stories and their authors. In
what is possibly a lazy short hand for "based in the provinces and
celebrating a marginal literary form", The Book Trust has described
them as "The Bloodaxe of short fiction".
Brace, like its
predecessors, is an anthology of new writing, focusing on breaking new
talent and giving wider exposure to already established authors who are
under-appreciated. While both of these aims are laudable, dealing with
a form already considered off-putting and frustrating, they set alarm
bells ringing. New Writers? Promotion? Anthologies?
There should be
no such cause for alarm. Brace
is uniformly excellent, with strong and arresting stories. Like a cold
north wind, the anthology as a whole has something straight and pure
about it that is refreshing and compelling.
urban horror to subtle relationship studies, the book includes a
variety of fictions. David Rose’s Lector, for
example, has a world where government policy has promoted public
readings to a valuable commodity, while in Heather
Doll Factory, a collection of seemingly unconnected
documents makes up the story of a future war where soldiers pay for
drug treatment to make sure that they aren’t morally culpable for their
The stories in
the main avoid the first person quirky story orthodoxy that plagues
much new short fiction, being less interested in obvious narrative
voice and more interested in the art of conveying their meaning through
event and description.
Of particular note are Steve Dearden’s Clare Counting;
Jacqueline McCarrick’s The
Sanctuary; Tyler Keevil’s Tokes from the Wild
and Neil McQuillian’s excellent Old Man in A Tracky.
Dearden’s Clare Counting is a
study of a couple just moved to a modern flat in the city and their
attempts to embrace a new life. McCarrick’s story is a tender portrait
of a lover dealing with the death of a long-term partner by exploring
the house they built and shared together. Keevil’s Tokes from the Wild
is an assured story of a city boy who follows his friend into the
countryside to spend a summer tree planting, which soon degenerates
into a mess of weed smoke and recriminations.
story of dislocation and loss, Neil McQuillian’s Old Man In A Tracky
is the standout of the anthology. Told with amazing economy of detail,
a cheap tracksuit bought for a relative becomes for an aging boxer a
metaphor for an entire life passed and family lost.
A triumph of
manages the difficult feat of remaining diverse while becoming more
than the sum of its parts. Based on this showing, a regular schedule of
Comma Press anthologies might just turn into the next Granta.
lives in south-east London. His work has appeared
in Punk Planet, Aesthetica, Brittle Star, Transmission, Pen Pusher,
Skive and Irk amongst others. He is editor of One in Four magazine
(www.oneinfourmag.org). He can be contacted at
Publisher: Comma Press
Allan, Juliet Bates, Annie Clarkson, Adam Connors, Steve Dearden, Paul
de Havilland, Tyler Keevil, Chris Killen, Richard Knight , Jacqueline
McCarrick, Neil McQuillian, Heather Richardson, David Rose, Guy
Russell, and Guy Ware.
Buy this book (used or
Publisher's Website: Comma Press
forget your local booksellers and independent book shops! Visit IndieBound.org to find an independent bookstore near
you in the US
you liked this book you might also like....
Crimes of Identity" & "Phobic"
other reviewers thought: