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Winter Hands

Annie Clarkson

I speak in notes, cross-firing messages against your door. You answer them in bridges. Wrap me in your clothes, I say, your shoes that are too big for me, your man-sized jackets. When you are quiet I will holdfast my breath, my eyes blind tight, I will speak to you in the language you teach me. "

Reviewed by Tania Hershman

You might assume that as slim a book as this, only 45 pages with some of them only half-filled with words, would only warrant a very short review, but in Annie Clarkson's collection of prose poems, micro-fictions, short short stories, whatever you choose to call them, there is a great deal to write about. As with all short stories, and even more so with fiction this short, if it is to be good – and this is very good – it must have depth, there must be more than meets the eye . 

There are 26 stories here, and there are themes that cut across them: communication and the lack of it, relationships, violence done to and by, music, the natural world. Words that come up several times includes stones, bruises, hands, guitars, rain. 

Clarkson uses language in such at way that she approaches scenes from an angle, never head on, and she moves and twists so that nothing is as it seems, nothing is straightforward. A story that seems to be about violence in a relationship, done by a woman to her partner (who may be male or female), ends with the lines:

I promise to stop you next time, hold you still, tell you that's enough. But part of me must be tied there with you, thinking I deserve it.
        Hurt me, I think
hurt me
I'm not brave enough to do it myself.

And when the begin seems to promise a violent end, such as in Break Time, with a man leading a girl into “the back of a wagon”, the last lines are comforting: "He prickle-kisses my neck and his mouth is the warm of a steam-pipe."

Clarkson doesn't often set the place, introduce characters or any of those conventions one might expect from fiction. She throws the reader straight into stories, with opening lines - some of which, heavens above, don't even begin with a capital letter! - such as

You don't understand it, he says

I laugh at first

walked like a woman with broken heels across pavements

these nights in a bar, these nights watching you

There is even a half page story that is one long sentence, with no punctation. 

Clarkson's works have linguistic playfulness of poetry, yet they are somewhere in that space between poetry and prose, unpinndownable. Her writing makes you ache, long after you have closed the book. The images she creates (“He held a house in the palm of his hand, a tiny house with broken windows and a caved-in roof”, “Bruises on my shoulders that I pretend are from doorframes, wardrobes, locker doors”, “bags trailing with open zips, hair splitting with braids”, “eyelashes frost with snow, tears freeze on his cheeks”, “hum whisper a tongue a mouth a lipstick rub on a forehead”) are so vivid, so tangible, as to remain imprinted upon your brain. These stories are short, but they are not small.

Intrigued? Read one of the stories from this collection on Shadowtrain.com.

Tania Hershman is a short story writer and the editor of The Short Review. Her own short story collection, The White Road and Other Stories, was published by Salt in Sept 2008. 

Tania's other Short Reviews: Etgar Keret & Samir el-Youssef "Gaza Blues"

Melvin J. Bukiet "A Faker's Dozen"

Rusty Barnes "Breaking it Down"

Roy Kesey "All  Over"

John Klima (ed) "Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories"

Kelley Eskridge "Dangerous Space"

18 Lies and 3 Truths: StoryQuarterly 2007 Annual

Aimee Bender "Wilful Creatures"

Paddy O'Reilly "The End of the World"

PublisherShadowtrain Books

Publication Date: Oct 2007

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Author bio: Annie Clarkson is a poet, social worker and short story writer living in Manchester, UK.

Read an interview with Annie Clarkson

Buy this book (used or new) from:

The Publisher's Website: Shadowtrain




And...don't forget your local booksellers and independent book shops! Visit  IndieBound.org to find an independent bookstore near you in the US

If you liked this book you might also like....

Aimee Bender "Wilful Creatures"

Roy Kesey "All Over"

Vanessa Gebbie "Words from a Glass Bubble"

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