Tom Lee was born in Essex in 1974 and
attended the University of East Anglia, the University of California,
Santa Cruz, and Goldsmith College. His stories have appeared in Zoetrope All-Story
in the United States, The
Dublin Review in Ireland and Zembla magazine in
the UK, among others, as well as being broadcast on BBC Radio 4.
with Tom Lee
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"It was remarkable how
much this life, in all its strangeness and turmoil, resembled the one I
had previously been leading. Everything was different and yet, aside
from my weekly betrayal, nothing was. June and I saw friends and family
and attended hospital appointments and antenatal classes. We made
arrangements for the birth and met the midwife. I cleared out the spare
room and began to turn it into a nursery. We shopped for things the
books told us we would need. June's belly continued to swell.
But I could no longer see June and I
Reviewed by Carol Reid
Character and place haunt each other in this memorable first collection
of twelve stories by Tom Lee.
Lee presents a portrait of a city suffocating in the stranglehold of
its own history and a marriage suffering a parallel fate. A November
"holiday" to Berlin and an enforced itinerary of visiting
one nightmarish museum after another ends in a moment of strange, sweet
and unexpected victory.
The wife, Caroline, says of the city,
"So grey, so much concrete, so many terrible things. I feel
The nameless husband describes the city as "…much as I had imagined it:
cold and grand, claustrophobic with
history." His bloodless but relentless cruelty toward her creates an
"I wanted my wife to have an affair so that I could resent
punish her for it. I wanted to suffer and to make her suffer to prove
that we were still in love. If it is a game then it is one I am
This story hovers close to belaboring its theme but succeeds on the
strength of its depiction of a tormented relationship.
Several stories are set in Latin American locales. The title character
of Mrs Echegary
waits for her lover in her usual room of the Hotel Mirabelle, blurring
her awareness of the end of the affair with many bottles of champagne.
She finally notices the shabbiness of the room, and a "yellow-brown
tobacco stain on the ceiling above the bed." This is a restrained story
of loneliness and delusion, very sad indeed.
Francisco takes place in another, even less salubrious
hotel, not in San Francisco at all, but in an unnamed high altitude
city where the air is so thin that cigarettes seem to last forever. The
protagonists wait for the arrival of a shadowy character named Ramiro
as their love affair withers and sense of safety deteriorates. The
denizens of the reception area have an air of maniacal menace toward
the cocaine-addled narrator.
"I try to ask them about the political situation and they snigger at my
attempts. Once, when I sneezed, they laughed hysterically. They held
their heads and rocked in their chairs. They couldn't stop."
The theme of being caught and stuck, held by unknowable forces, runs
through many of these stories. Lee's deceptively offhand prose style
captures and holds the reader's interest. We are drawn into the
protagonists' struggles, staying the course with them even as we
realize that things will not turn out well.
Good Guy, while by no means a light read, attacks this
theme of suffocation and helplessness with a suggestion of wry humor.
Among other stressful situations in his life, JP, college lecturer and
titular "good guy" is diagnosed with a panic disorder by the
philosophical campus GP.
The doctor pronounces his condition "…an existential rather than a
medical phenomenon". A distressed JP asks, "am I dying?"
"The doctor did not look around. 'We're all dying', he said."
I happened to read this passage in my own doctor's waiting room, which
firmly established my goodwill toward this collection.
from this collection in The Times