various authors
  edited by Rob Redman

The Fiction Desk
2011
First Anthology







"On and and on she goes, as if someone has permanently injected the wings of a mosquito into his head."


Reviewed by Pauline Masurel

Rob Redman, the editor of this collection, used to be a club DJ. This book reminds me of listening to the radio DJs John Peel and Andy Kershaw, who played music they had specifically chosen, regardless of what might have been on the Radio 1 playlist that day. In the introduction to the book Redman confesses that he has "a desire to seek out new and interesting things, the worthwhile but perhaps overlooked, and to share them with as many people as possible." And, like an enthusiastic DJ, he introduces each track in this programme of reading matter with a snippet of information about the story or the artist.

But what of the stories themselves? Overall, this book has quite a masculine, either urban or suburban feel to it. Only two of the twelve authors are female and the main characters and viewpoints in the stories are generally male. That's not to imply they are all full of city-gritty detail or entirely without female perspectives or sentiment. There are certainly plenty of nuanced revelations of feeling and developing relationships. For example, Charles Lambert's story, All I Want, transports two young language teachers out to the shores of Lake Garda in the company of a perfect couple and their perfect children to explore the nature of success, power and longing.

Some of the stories offer a laugh at the peculiarities of life, despite its sorrows, worries and disappointments, such as Harvey Marcus's instructional guide on How to Fall in Love with an Air Hostess. In Rex, Jon Wallace introduces a man with a dog's name and an actor called William who appears out of nowhere to play the part of the family dog. Adrian Stumpp's Nativity also provided me with a lot of wry smiles on the way to a moving ending. When evicted from his study to make room for a nursery, the story's protagonist declares, "Sometimes I would wander the neighbourhood, politely knocking on garage doors, to see what the other men did in their garages." Another story that hinges on revelations about parenthood is Lynsey May's Two Buses Away, which examines that moment when a man first realises his parents are people and not just parents.

There are some lovely turns of phrase to be found in this collection. I was particularly impressed by the detailed descriptions in The Puzzle. The expectant father in Nativity is seduced by his wife "with endings happier than those found in a latex reservoir" into making a baby.

In A Covering of Leaves, Danny Rhodes takes something very ordinary – the inconvenience of autumn leaf-fall – and transforms it into a monumental, omnipresent force with memorial powers. The daily fall becomes a shroud which covers the vehicles of deceased train passengers. The quiet, carefully observed details of commuting life built up such a convincing world that the story carried me along into its incredible conclusion.

The premise of The Fiction Desk anthology collection appears to be to build up a subscriber base for this series of quarterly publications. But who subscribes to regularly buy collections of fiction from a range of (largely) unknown authors? Well, strange to tell, I've actually taken a punt on it myself – for the serendipity. In the same way that I sometimes listened to John Peel on the radio. I may not have liked all the music he chose, but I could be sure that he loved it or he wouldn't be playing it. So too with Rob Redman's selections. This feels like a very personal project and I was encouraged enough by what I read in Various Authors to tune in for the next installment.

Read a story from this collection on The Fiction Desk (PDF)


Pauline Masurel lives in South Gloucestershire, where she variously authors short fiction and tends gardens. She seldom listens to music on the radio these days.

Pauline's other Short Reviews: Erin Pringle "The Floating Order"

Jim Crace "The Devil's Larder"

Mark Budman, Tom Hazuka (eds) "You Have Time for This"

Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities

Carson McCullers "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe"

Jeffrey Eugenides (ed) "My Mistress' Sparrow is Dead"

Kasia Boddy, Ali Smith, Sarah Wood (eds) "Let's Call
the Whole Thing Off"

Ben Tanzer "Repetition Patterns"

Paul Meloy "Islington Crocodiles"

Dan Rhodes "Anthropology"

Frank Burton "A History of Sarcasm"

Various "Ten Journey"

Michael Sims (ed) "Dracula's Guest
"

Margaret Atwood "Good Bones"

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya "There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbour's Baby"
                     
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Authors Charles Lambert, Lynsey May, Jon Wallace, Patrick Whittaker, Adrian Stumpp, Jason Atkinson, Matthew Licht, Ben Lyle, Danny Rhodes, Harvey Marcus, Alex Cameron, Ben Cheetham