money is in a pink scented envelope, as always. Theo gives me left-over
Bolognese sauce in a Tupperware container; he says it’s too much for
one. He takes my hand and kisses my knuckles."
Reviewed by Melissa Lee-Houghton
can tell that this collection is worth some attention by the opening
paragraph. It is dark and tragic, but not without humour, and it cuts
deep into the heart of the book, it is indicative of seriously
accomplished writing. "Yesterday I watched Mr. Crawford try to kill
himself," Smith begins, and the reading from the offset is
Every Seven Seconds a tenacious boy is given a shocking gift
by a man who had been attempting to hang himself in his garage. It's
disturbing yet it does not falter, does not stray or lose sight of
the narrative, it is cleanly written, with decidedly dirty subject
matter. These stories have texture, layers, cleverly worked to
effect. Smith does use vulgarity and stark, punchy language, abusive
or sexual, sometimes gratuitous. There's no sentimentality often
she just lays it down with a silent, "deal with this."
Kettle sees a quietly grieving woman having to get along in a
world inhabited by her dead lover's widow and her own failing
marriage. It's believable, you can imagine this happening to
someone, and so it is reinforced. Written in second person it hooks
and snares, you feel for the woman though you avidly disapprove.
secret life is revealed to us in Fridays; a story about a
woman's secret job as a dominatrix. Again, there is a lifeless
marriage and unsatisfying sex life unfolding beside the casual
enjoyment of the side "job." What makes the story shocking is
that the man the woman is working for is elderly.
The money is in
a pink scented envelope, as always. Theo gives me left-over Bolognese
sauce in a Tupperware container; he says it's too much for one. He
takes my hand and kisses my knuckles.
is some tenderness in this story, unlikely tenderness, and some
of the most striking stories in the collection is Sow,
story of a morbidly obese but sweet and vulnerable woman. Although
the description of the woman is hideous we also feel sorry for her.
"She was gigantic- not just fat...She had these eyes that were
buried so deep in her face you could hardly see them, and her cheeks
sort of… flapped…" In Smith's stories there are no outright
heroes, nor outright losers either. You feel empathy it seems in the
wrong places; she turns moral dilemmas on their heads. The main
character in this story, the narrator, commits a cowardly crime whose
repercussions are extreme. You don't know who to feel sorry for.
The Biting Point takes us into the minds of two characters
with very different thoughts and motives. Chloe is a teenage girl
learning to drive, and her driving instructor is the object of her
affections. Preoccupied with thoughts of winning his affections, her
driving is compromised. Her instructor's thoughts are also
preoccupied but in a very different way to Chloe's. The hormonal
desire of Chloe, and the misunderstanding and conflict that takes
place in each character's mind is fascinating. By the end of
Chloe's story are we annoyed or are we sympathetic?
of the characters in this book are wholly likeable, they are all
flawed, and nearly all are culpable. Yet we form complex allegiances,
and unconscious judgments on each. What do these say about us, as
voyeurs? The challenge makes for an exciting and original must-read.