Mix Tape
 by A J Kirby

New Generation Publishing 2009 Paperback
First collection

A J Kirby is an award winning writer of two published novels: Bully and The Magpie Trap.

Read an interview with A J Kirby.

"My ghostly breath chills the air and fills it with my brooding presence. I watch him betray me over and over again. I watch him sully the sheets of our bed. I watch him at his weakest moments..."

Reviewed by Alex Thornber

If you have ever made a mix tape for someone, you were probably trying to coerce him or her into liking some of your music. If so, you play it safe, ease the listener in with some accessible music that wont scare them off before you surprise them with the slightly weirder songs later.

A.J Kirby's Mix Tape is somewhat different. The first story in this collection, A Day In The Life, is about a man named Donovan who may or may not be teetering on the edge of sanity. Told through correspondence between Donovan, an acquaintance and a psychologist, Kirby depicts the life of a man who wouldn't be out of place in a Bukowski story. He is offensive, especially towards women, and believes that he is the most important person in the universe.

It is not entirely clear who this Donovan actually is; it is hinted that he is famous but that piece of information could be from Donovan's altered view of himself. He also seams to believe that he has control over the fate of humanity, however this is also not clear. Kirby successfully manages to give each of the three characters a distinctly different style and tone in their e-mails, which makes it very easy and interesting to read. It does however feel like a fairly limiting style for a story this complex because in the end it is almost impossible to discern what has happened or why. Yet, one could argue that none of the characters seem to understand what is happening and all that is unclear, or that Kirby leaves out, works magnificently to put the reader into the story.

It is a somewhat risky selection for the opening of a collection because Kirby's achievement in making his characters writing styles distinctly different could be off-putting; the first page displays the fumbled spellings and confused sentences of protagonist Donovan. Regardless of this though it is a risk that paid off, as we are, without warning, put right in front of a wholly baffling and excellently written story that burrows into your memory and forces you to want more.

Like all good mix tape makers who sneak in the key song they really want their listener to love, Kirby slips an absolute gem of a story at the opening of Side B. Skeleton in the Closet is a darkly disturbing assault on the imagination; the equivalent of a song you'll be humming for months, Skeleton is a story that won’t soon leave your mind. This little story is intense, creepy and reeks of the macabre.

From the view point of a mistreated ex-partner, Kirby forces us to voyeuristically watch a man living his life, everything from simply staring out the window to stopping in the middle of sex to write. Kirby magnificently personifies the metaphor of having skeletons in one's closet, giving a unique and twisted angle to the phrase. The story tracks the thoughts and observations of the nameless, more or less completely unknown, skeleton which jumps between compassion and contempt for the events which play out in front of her. Kirby's description and heartbreaking phrases force us to feel like we too are crouching in that closet. It is deeply unnerving and wonderfully compelling.

Overall Kirby's Mix Tape is aptly named, for not every story in here will please everyone but every one is written brilliantly. Kirby has a great talent for writing well across genre boundaries and therefore has something special to offer readers with wide and varying tastes.

Read a story by this author in Sein und Werden

Alex Thornber writes short stories.

Alex's other Short Reviews: "The Collected Stories of John Cheever"
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Author's Recommended Bookseller: AndyKirbyTheWriter.com


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