by Mithran Somasundrum
collection could just as easily have been called Ugly Stories For Unsettling
for to enter the world of James Burr is to step into a region where
reality is fluid and to be happy, or at least settled, is to be in
incomplete possession of the facts.
you enter, reality fractures in surprising and innocuous places. Your
computer monitor tries to engage you in conversation. Worse still, its
philosophical propositions begin to appear scarily relevant to your own
life (Fragments of a
Schizoid Dream). Or perhaps the biased Rorschach blots
you've showing your patients come to say more about your own wobbling
state of mind (Blot).
It might be something as impossible as a phone call from a
disturbed-sounding friend, despite the fact that you can see that
friend, phoneless, on the other side of the room (Life's What You Make It).
Or as simple as going to bed with a woman who, in a certain light,
looks like your ex-girlfriend (Ménage
Perhaps even now you are discovering memos from The Dada Relationship
Police (inside crisp packets, on restaurant bills), suggesting your
relationship is doomed (and a worm of self-doubt starts to burrow).
Alternatively, it might be that your local, a smokey old men's pub, has
become the haunt of porn star women demanding joyless porn star sex (Bernie Does Camberwell).
best advice for the unwary traveler in James Burr-land is to not notice
too much. If you're in Barcelona, stick to the tourist trail of Gaudi
buildings, Miro sculptures and "clean, glossy franchised bars." Don't
let your glance stray to the edges, to the Arab junkies, "the homeless
slumped as if dead in the doorways," and least of all to the scarred,
blue-tattooed figures shuffling along. Pay too much attention to them
and they'll start to notice you (Blue).
For in James Burr-land reality-fractures often spring from no more than
a way of seeing. It's probably also not a good idea to enter into a
relationship, as this is a place where love slides quickly into
obsession, or otherwise takes on monstrous proportions (BobandJane).
may just be a testament to the careful arrangement of these stories
(this is a collection meant to be read in order, and is without a
contents page for that reason), but it was the shortest tales which for
me had the greatest impact -- the delusions and, ultimately, kindness
revealed in Mutton Pie;
the pace and linguistic inventiveness of The Byronic Man;
and best of all from this collection, It,
which is a gem of a story, at once hilarious and horrific, a story
which leaves you envying the author its premise while admiring the
perfect balance with which that premise is developed. In contrast, some
of the longer pieces here, such as Blue,
Ménage à Beaucoup, and Fragments of a Schizoid Dream,
didn't deliver as much despite their greater word counts. All three
deal with the state of mind of a central character, and part of the
problem is that those states are lingered over repetitively to the
detriment of the stories' forward motion.
though, the best test of such a collection is the success with which
the author inveigles you into their world. In this case, I finished the
book in the food court of a shopping mall, put it down, looked around
me, and waited for the cracks to show.
Watch the author read one of the stories from this collection on YouTube.com.
Somasundrum was born in Colombo, grew up in London and currently lives
and works in Bangkok. He has published short fiction in Natural Bridge,
The Sun, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and The Minnesota Review
among others, and has stories forthcoming in Zahir Tales and Greatest
Publisher: Corsega Press/Lulu.com
Burr has written stories and novellas for numerous magazines
and anthologies. He taught English in Barcelona for two years before
gaining an MA in Anglo-American literature at University College
London. He now lives Worcester in the UK, and is currently working on
his first novel, Deus Ex Machina.
with James Burr
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