Tales of the DeCongested Vol. 2
edited by Paul Blaney and Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone
Books, 2008 Paperback
Editors: Paul Blaney is a short story writer who
teaches at Rutgers University. He is a co-founder of Tales of the
DeCongested. Four of his stories appeared in Desperate Remedies (Apis
Books) in April 2008.
Born in Kenya, Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone now lives and works in Bethnal
Green. Co-founder of Tales of the DeCongested, a monthly short story
reading event held at Foyles Bookshop in Charing Cross Road, she is a
partner of Apis Books, an independent publishing company for shorter
fiction, and teaches creative writing at City University. Home, published
by Social Disease, is her first novel.
father married into money, or at least into the remains of money. It
was my grandfather who made good when he opened his first sports store
in our town. With the profits, he built a department store. For a
while, Grandfather’s acumen and an economic boom turned good years into
great ones. Marvelous things were predicted for his four children."
Reviewed by Daniela I. Norris
An eclectic mix of stories from 35 different writers, who have all read
their work at the Tales of the DeCongested's live event, held monthly
in the dedicated performance space at Foyles Bookshop, Charing Cross
Road in London. Set up in 2003 by Paul Blaney and Rebekah
Lattin-Rawstrone, Tales' mission is to raise the profile of the short
story in London and to provide a platform for new writing.
This admirable effort resulted in a first anthology published in 2006
and this recent second one, which includes some baffling, bordering on
the bizarre tales weaved together with some truly inspiring ones. This
is not a bad thing – as reading through this collection often feels
like visiting an amusement park. Which ride will I go on next? Will it
be an emotional rollercoaster or an eye-opening experience?
Some rides are more enjoyable than others, but this largely depends on
the preferences of the reader.
Magical Realism (the beautifully written The Dead Boy at Your Window by
Bruce Holland Rogers) that tugs at the strings of hopeful readers'
hearts, alongside a somewhat incomprehensible story titled The Day Everybody in the World's Arsehole
Disappeared (yes, this is the real title, and the subject-matter
of the story) by Richard Tyrone Jones.
A lasting impression is left by Kate Henderson's brilliant story titled
Pulling In – this is a story
told in the first person by a tired commuter who stopped at a road-side
station. What does she find there? This story is definitely one of the
highlights of this collection – plot, tension-building and character
description are an obvious forte of this promising writer.
"I choose an empty table by the window, as faraway from anyone else as
I can get, and slide into the plastic seat. I slip down, my body
slumping a little lower than my coat which stays upright, its collar
high around my ears, but I don't try to right myself. I pull my handbag
closer in towards me, feeling a need to keep it safe… …I think my
sanity might be inside, neglected at the bottom and covered in tissue
fluff, but in desperate need of protection all the same. Looking up, I
catch my reflection in the window and feel sorry for who I see. She's
small, alone, in need of looking after. But I am not going to be the
one to do it, not this time. I can't…. ….I try to look past myself to
the blankness of the night beyond the glass, but all I can see is the
reflection of the restaurant area behind me, its bright lights and
corporate cheerfulness an odd backdrop to the worn-out woman slumped at
It seems that the editors of this collection were determined to include
something for everyone – the stories are all written in very different
styles, while the common thread is the fact that these are mostly debut
writers – some whose talent is as obvious as a crow in the snow – as
well as others who seem to be trying to test the readers' patience and
Still, you won't be able to resist turning the pages. Don't
miss Heidi James' flash fiction piece titled Gifts, which will leave
you wondering about who, why and how. Daniel Jeffreys' Cosmic Arboretum
is a beautiful tale set in a different era and space:
"The café in the
village square was once a well-known haunt of agitators who, in my
youth, scribbled polemics on the back of menus. They were mopped up
pretty much after the General came to power. You still see a few of
them floating around: humming melodies in the rose garden for loose
change. The more daring ones still give music lessons if there's a
safe-house, properly sound-proofed, on the coastal road."
Stuart Green's The Jogger is
one of those city-set tales that will
resonate with many of us, as is the splendid story by Frank Goodman
titled Underneath the Masts.
"Clive lived out near one of those radio
masts that you can see from the trains that head south from London
Bridge station. I was never sure which one, but I remember standing out
in his garden during parties looking up at it, watching the little red
lights winking away above the chimney pots and TV aerials. I remember
wondering what it was like to be up there, up above the city with the
endless spidery network of lights spread out below."
Another special treat is the slightly baffling but highly entertaining
story by Andrew Lloyd-Jones, titled For
"Dan's flat was in the window of the estate agent. As far as he was
aware, however, it wasn't for sale. …
Indeed – I loved some of the stories, and disliked others. Reading this
collection is like a raffle where everyone wins something – it just
depends on your literary taste. You could walk home with a gruesome
troll figurine or with a real nugget of gold – and this totally depends
on which page you open the book. But do not hesitate – do invest in it.
You can take it on a train ride, to the beach, to bed on a dark and
stormy night. You won't have a boring moment, and are sure to
experience a stunning spectrum of contemporary writing.
'Excuse me,' Dan said to the girl
in the suit. 'I was wondering about one of the flats in the window.'
'Yes,' she said brightly. 'Which one?'"