by Brendan Connell

Better Non Sequitur
2010, Paperback

Brendan Connell was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1970. He has had fiction published in numerous places, including McSweeney’s, Adbusters, Fast Ships, Black Sails (Nightshade Books, 2008), and the World Fantasy Award winning anthologies Leviathan 3 (The Ministry of Whimsy, 2002), and Strange Tales (Tartarus Press, 2003). His published books are: The Translation of Father Torturo (Prime Books, 2005), Dr. Black and the Guerrillia (Grafitisk Press, 2005), and Metrophilias (Better Non Sequitur, 2010).

Read an interview with Brendan Connell

"At nights he would beat her. She adored him. He grew bored and left her. When she looked in the mirror, it seemed to her that her tears were pink."

Reviewed by Annie Clarkson

 Metrophilias is a collection of 36 very short fictions, vignettes or "chapters", some only a paragraph long, others four pages. It's a collection with a strong theme: each story has the title of a city, and in each one there is a character or set of characters with some kind of obsession.

It's alphabetized, starting with ‘Athens' and ending with 'Zurich'. Almost half of the stories are set in European cities, but also we have stories set in as wide ranging places as Gwangju, Havana, Kinshasa, Manila, Quito, Peking, Sydney, and Uberlandia.

I'm not sure this collection is really about cities though, or that it truly captured the characters of the cities. Yes, each story is detailed with aspects of a particular city - the name of a river for instance or its streets, native trees, drinks or customs - but the people seem much the same wherever they were, and each story's trajectory is very similar: we are introduced to a place and a character, and by the end, their particular obsession or perversion is revealed.

This book is filled with drunks, miscreants and sexual degenerates. Many of the characters seemed scarred or ugly in some way. We have stories about masochists, sadists, cannibals, erotic-pyromaniacs, and characters obsessed with carpets, noses, soft toys, and broken bones, for example. There is a man who finds a woman's head in the trash, takes it home and falls in love with her. There is a woman who, literally, gets sexual pleasure from the holy cross.

There are all kinds of boundaries crossed in this book, including fetishes about animals, pain, eating human flesh and so on. It's not sexually explicit or graphic as such. It's perhaps cleverer than this (not subtle at all, but not predictable).

These pieces of writing have an almost fairy-tale or fable quality (without a moral ending). So, in Peking, Prince Zhu is described as "His lips were as red as cherries, and his skin as white as rice-flour. […] Skilled with the use of the mace, he could have slaughtered a dragon". This is definitely, fairy-tale language and imagery. His particular obsession is being in love with a vase, so we have a mix of fairy tale, magic realism and adult sexuality, creating one of the stronger stories in the collection.

The stories often have an odd feel to them, brought about by the subject matter, but also that some stories are set in an ancient time indicated by "the bleat of sacrificial lambs" or words like "vestments". The language is often grandiose or unusual as well, which adds to the sense of weird that the whole collection gives out.

There were a few too many "whores" for my liking. I also felt that the approach to sexuality was over-focused on the bizarre, disturbing, obscene (rather than, for example the funny, tender, or sad). But, then, that's what this book is all about.

Paris was one of the stories that struck me most, because it reminded me of a real-life story from the city that I live in. In Connell's story, a very rich man meets a woman on the street and buys her some very expensive shoes. He trails her around Paris making her step in puddles, mud and horse manure, and then pleasures himself by licking her shoes clean. It's written beautifully, and captures the act well. When he pays her there is a hint of the dynamics in the relationships.

My version of the story is much sadder, more desperate, guilty and shameful than this one. It's more human in a way, because when I was told the story by the person who was paid to have his shoes licked, the context came across: why a young man might be in a position where he would say yes to a rich man who wants to pay money to lick his skanky trainers, and the complex power dynamic in such a transaction.

I think this is what's lacking in these stories, the complex human emotion, a hint of the psychology, the capturing of the relationship dynamics. For this reason, I would say Metrophilias is not a book for everyone.

But some readers will find this a very strong and entertaining collection. These fables and tales are clever, descriptively rich, decadent, shocking, and at times beautifully-written. They capture moments of weakness or indulgence in cities around the world, in different eras, revealing an underbelly of sexual depravity and obsession.

Annie Clarkson  is a poet and short story writer living in Manchester, UK. Her chapbook of prose poems Winter Hands was published by Shadow Train Books in 2007. Her short fiction has been published in various anthologies, magazines and online, including Brace (Comma), Unsaid Undone and This Road We’re On (Flax Books), Transmission, Ouroboros Review, Succour, Mslexia, Dreamcatcher, Cake, and Pank magazine.

Annie's other Short Reviews: Anthony De Sa "Barnacle Love"

Laura Chester "Rancho Weirdo"

Daniel Grandbois "Unlucky Lucky Days"

Josephine Rowe "East of Here, Close to Water"

Mark Illis "Tender"

"One World Anthology"

Samuel Ligon "Drift and Swerve"

Alice Zorn "Ruins and Relics"

Ailsa Cox "The Real Louise"

Mary Gaitskill "Don't Cry"

Lori Ostlund "The Bigness of the World"

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