Not So Perfect
 by Nik Perring

Roast Books
2010, Paperback
First collection

Nik Perring lives in Cheshire. His work been published widely, in the UK and abroad. He is author of the children’s book I Met A Roman Last Night What Did You Do.

Read an interview with Nik Perring

"The box my heart’s in is on the windowsill, with the slug pellets and matches, with the almost full bottle of turps and a dusty bottle of champagne we won somewhere."

Reviewed by Melissa Lee-Houghton

When you pick up this book it is at first a wonderful object, an unusual square book with a beautiful cover. It fits into fast paced living, into pockets, books-on-a-train or in the café or sat on the bus in the rain. The lengths of the stories then, are genius works of flash fiction, easy to get carried away with, in no sense arduous. Each character breathes originality; it is a pleasure to become acquainted with them.

In Bare and Naked in Siberia, a teenage girl’s sexual awakening is significantly less of an experience than the finding of a frozen woolly mammoth. A convincing narrative, the story of a girl concerned with the family’s financial predicament, Bare…takes a troubling look at adolescence in these Recession years.

My Wife Threw Up a Lemur is an extraordinary tale of a woman with a real imperfection; she throws up small animals, which she keeps and tends to. She is in some sort of physical denial of her ripeness for childbearing; she wants kids, but maybe not yet. Maybe she feels she is at a disadvantage in some way that people just accept, don’t mention. The story is warm and well-conceived. "No-one’s ever asked where they come from. I kind of wish they would". The husband’s patience is the root of the piece, as he makes room in his life for the animals, tries to teach them tricks and waits obligingly over the issue of parenthood. The story is heartwarming and for all its quirks it is rooted in the real. There is some universality in there that stops you wanting to get to the line, makes you want for more.

Scarier moments come when hand-grenades, domestic disputes in high temperatures and a woman with mechanic sexual organs come into the mix. And then there’s the almost eerie tale in Watching, Listening, of a man that loves to listen to a mother read to her child. The librarian has noticed, and the narrative switches artfully from both points of view.

My Heart’s in a Box is my favourite not-so-perfect story. It’s feverish and tempting, it’s clever and quirky and quick. An object of desire proves too much to give away when it is left untended and unwanted. Deeply subversive and intoxicating, this story is memorable and loveable. It chimes with the tactile qualities of the beating heart in a box lined with purple velvet. "She cut the thread, dropped the needle in the bin and took my hands and pulled me upright," the story is very physical. It’s also desperately sad and most people would recognize the resounding sentiment.

I read the whole book in one sitting and then delved in again, so compulsive was the hit of story after story, flash after flash. Even the shortest of all the pieces, such as Pieces of Us are powerful and moving. "They are laid out now, those pieces of us. Some edges flutter in the breeze."

Sobs felt like a piece of cinema, "I turned, I got to my knees on the bed, and crawled towards the wall. I put my hands on the pillows and listened. To the sobs, to the girl. I put my ear to the wall, pressed against the cold paint."

The stories are easy to visualize, the characters come to life. Tastes, sounds, shapes, sizes, features, temperatures, are all recorded and elaborated to great effect in each piece. Physical description seems to be a strong point for Perring, who knows exactly which details to bring and which are less important. The prose isn’t over-described, indulgent or heavy at all, it’s light and keen, balanced to perfection.

Read a story from this collection in 3am magazine

Author of the book, Patterns of Mourning, Melissa Lee-Houghton writes poetry and short fiction most recently published in Succour and Tears in the Fence. She is currently taking part in a new writing project online, entitled Genius or Not which will go live in the Autumn.

Melissa's other Short Reviews: Philip Shirley "Oh Don't You Cry For me"

Jason Brown "Why the Devil Chose New England for His Work"

Delmore Schwartz "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities"   

David Gaffney "Aromabingo"

Elizabeth Baines "Balancing on the Edge of the World"

John Saul "As Rivers Flow"

Stephanie Johnson "One of These Things Is Not Like the Others"

Nicholas Royle (ed) "'68: New Stories from Children of the Revolution"
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