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Brace: A New Generation in Short Fiction

Jim Hinks (ed)

And there it was, still in its bag, just sitting on the mantelpiece. It made the place look untidy. He emptied it out on to the bed, then unzipped the top and felt the lining – soft and thin, slightly see through. It reminded him of sausage skin. He touched it to his groin, then put it on. "

Reviewed by Mark Brown

Brace, edited by Jim Hinks is the latest in a series of anthologies published by Comma Press, the English not-for-profit publishing initiative. Comma is committed to promoting short stories and their authors. In what is possibly a lazy short hand for "based in the provinces and celebrating a marginal literary form", The Book Trust has described them as "The Bloodaxe of short fiction". 

Brace, like its predecessors, is an anthology of new writing, focusing on breaking new talent and giving wider exposure to already established authors who are under-appreciated. While both of these aims are laudable, dealing with a form already considered off-putting and frustrating, they set alarm bells ringing. New Writers? Promotion? Anthologies? 

There should be no such cause for alarm. Brace is uniformly excellent, with strong and arresting stories. Like a cold north wind, the anthology as a whole has something straight and pure about it that is refreshing and compelling. 

Ranging from urban horror to subtle relationship studies, the book includes a variety of fictions. David Rose’s Lector, for example, has a world where government policy has promoted public readings to a valuable commodity, while in Heather Richardson’s The Doll Factory, a collection of seemingly unconnected documents makes up the story of a future war where soldiers pay for drug treatment to make sure that they aren’t morally culpable for their actions. 

The stories in the main avoid the first person quirky story orthodoxy that plagues much new short fiction, being less interested in obvious narrative voice and more interested in the art of conveying their meaning through event and description. Of particular note are Steve Dearden’s Clare Counting; Jacqueline McCarrick’s The Sanctuary; Tyler Keevil’s Tokes from the Wild and Neil McQuillian’s excellent Old Man in A Tracky

Dearden’s Clare Counting is a study of a couple just moved to a modern flat in the city and their attempts to embrace a new life. McCarrick’s story is a tender portrait of a lover dealing with the death of a long-term partner by exploring the house they built and shared together. Keevil’s Tokes from the Wild is an assured story of a city boy who follows his friend into the countryside to spend a summer tree planting, which soon degenerates into a mess of weed smoke and recriminations. 

A heartbreaking story of dislocation and loss, Neil McQuillian’s Old Man In A Tracky is the standout of the anthology. Told with amazing economy of detail, a cheap tracksuit bought for a relative becomes for an aging boxer a metaphor for an entire life passed and family lost. 

A triumph of editing, Brace manages the difficult feat of remaining diverse while becoming more than the sum of its parts. Based on this showing, a regular schedule of Comma Press anthologies might just turn into the next Granta.

From Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Mark Brown now lives in south-east London. His work has appeared in Punk Planet, Aesthetica, Brittle Star, Transmission, Pen Pusher, Skive and Irk amongst others. He is editor of One in Four magazine (www.oneinfourmag.org). He can be contacted at markbrown1977@googlemail.com.

Mark's other Short Reviews: Peter Wild (ed) "Perverted by Language: Fiction Inspired by The Fall"

Ali Smith "Other Stories & Other Stories"

Carys Davies "Some New Ambush"

PublisherComma Press

Publication Date: April 2008

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First anthology?: No

Editor: Jim Hinks

Author bio: Charlotte Allan, Juliet Bates, Annie Clarkson, Adam Connors, Steve Dearden, Paul de Havilland, Tyler Keevil, Chris Killen, Richard Knight , Jacqueline McCarrick, Neil McQuillian, Heather Richardson, David Rose, Guy Russell, and Guy Ware.

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The Publisher's Website: Comma Press



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Other Comma anthologies: "I.D. Crimes of Identity" & "Phobic"

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