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29 Ways to Drown

Niki Aguirre

We tried other things, but Earl refused to be suggestible. When I tried to block an event from his past, another would pop immediately into its place – a good example of the brain’s defense mechanism in action. When after a few weeks we hadn’t made much progress, I began to look at alternative methods "

Reviewed by Sarah Salway

Ignore the back cover of this book. The comparisons Niki Aguirre’s publisher makes about her are unfortunate because she is not – yet – up there with Alice Munro, Borges or ZZ Packer, and she, and this book, deserves more than the inevitable disappointment that particular piece of puff yields. I speak from my own experience. I started reading this collection thinking, ‘OK, show me what you’ve got.’ And only after a bit settled into enjoying them. 

Because Niki Aguirre doesn’t need to be compared with anyone. She has her own voice, and it’s a great one for a short story writer. The same tone runs through all the character’s voices, and the fact she can create such different people all looking at the world from a similar slightly skewey angle is definitely to her credit. These are outsiders who, for once, are not trying to fit in. No, Aguirre’s characters are too busy searching for their own brand of independence to worry what others think, and the originality that this gives the whole collection can’t be underestimated. 

In the second story, Time Immemorial, the young narrator explores time travel as a way of recovering his lost father before finding himself increasingly lost in a dark tunnel of his own making. There are some lovely details. Watching his mother with Earl, her awful new husband, Ally notices how

”Betty” would act coy and sometimes (Earl) would kiss her straight on the lips when he knew I was looking
Ally gets his revenge, but by the end, heartbreakingly, no one wins. 

In The Shed, a wife can – apparently - only watch as her husband takes his obsession with writing to new levels in their garden shed. Her celebratory moment towards the end of the story is lost when her husband’s manuscript is carried off by the wind, and you realize how it has only been through following her husband’s dreams that she could have her own. 

Aguirre looks closely at human relationships but always with a kind eye, and the fact that these are characters who do not hate is reflected in the quietness of the writing. So it is disappointing when some stories rush towards their end or contain more stereotypical characters. The Little Man for example has a shocking conclusion, but Aguirre’s skill in handling the cruelty makes me wish she had played with this more. The twist in the tale is even humorous in what could otherwise have been a deeply disturbing piece. Equally, the title story, 29 Ways to Drown, was carrying me along completely until the last seven words rammed the point home annoyingly. This uncharacteristically misjudged touch is in contrast with the ease with which other stories, including the beautiful Solomon’s Call, seem to be written. For this intensely moving story of an immigrant father allowed his moment to shine by his daughter alone, the book would deserve its place in my bookshelves, but there are many more stories here I will come back to read again and again.

Sarah Salway is a poet, short story writer and novelist. Her books include Something Beginning With and Tell Me Everything (Bloomsbury) and Leading the Dance (Bluechrome). She is a teacher of creative writing and is currently collaborating with several artists on projects, including the Tiny Circus in America (www.thetinycircus.blogspot.com).

Sarah's other Short Reviews: Lorrie Moore "Self Help"   

Karen Russell "St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves"

PublisherLubin and Kleyner

Publication Date: Nov 2007

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Awards: Longlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award 2008

Author bio: Niki Aguirre is a London based fiction writer, born in the United States to Ecuadorian parents. She studied English Literature at the University of Illinois and holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of London. She is currently working on her first novel.

Read an interview with Niki Aguirre

Buy this book (used or new) from:

The Publisher's Website: Flipped Eye

Author's recommended bookseller: Amazon



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