Household Worms
by Stanley Donwood

Tangent Books 2011
Second Collection

"No-one is happy and if they say they are they’re fucking lying."

Reviewed by Sara Crowley

Donwood is apparently best known for being the artist responsible for all of Radiohead’s art. This is his second short story collection and clearly his creativity is not limited to the visual arts, although the first thing one notices about this book is its very striking cover; a detail of a Donwood piece entitled Fleet Street Apocalypse. The second thing one notices is the intriguing title - Household Worms.

Inside are 41 flashes, some no more than a paragraph long. Words are surrounded by white space and some begin with text appearing lower and lower down on consecutive pages. The titles are plain; Idiots, Loyalty Card, It's not here, that thing you're looking for, Another Fucking Supermarket - indicative of the lucid words to come.

The collection opens with Wage Packet. A man gets a job washing dishes in a restaurant and has responsibility for scraping leftovers into "the pig"; a food disposal machine. When the machine blocks one mishap leads to another and our protagonist muddles his way through a bleak farce. The end of the story takes us back to the beginning in a circular motion as with familiar dread he begins to look for a new job. It's probably the most traditional story here. Typically, Donwood's fictions offer glimpses of despair rather than complete tales. His landscape is one of litter and rust, faded signs and desiccated insects. His first person characters are demotivated and despairing as they try to manage their sense of not fitting into the world. Even happiness is described as a "sweaty fever" in Island of Doctor Moreau, one of a few stories which share a common premise - what would happen if feelings were manifested in some external way? The character here becomes too warm, his face turns into a caricature as he struggles with unhappiness.

In Very cold the narrator wakes one morning and feels there is something wrong.
It was like a place someone had poked me with an icicle. A splinter of winter. The days passed like they do and I just got colder. The cold spread until I was like a sculpture of ice.

However, nobody notices.

This is the silent scream of the man next to you in the supermarket queue. Comforting words for those who know what it is to suddenly feel out of place, out of step, baffled, afraid of what we see surround us.

My week seemed to me to be the defining work here with its diary of thoughts.
Tuesday - Something without a name has been eating at my thoughts for a while.

However, the story that made the biggest impression was the sad lament of Telescope where the narrator looks for "the gap between you and me" only to recognise his own shape as threatening, impossible to ever combine with the object of his affection.

Read one after another these tiny fictions can feel a little relentless and one wishes for some light amongst the grey. This is found in the humour that shines through despite its darkness, although there's little sign of hope. I'd suggest reading these one at a time, allowing them the room they deserve, and then finding something cheery to do as an antidote.

Read a story from this collection on

Sara Crowley likes words. She won Waterstones' Bookseller Bursary, and her novel in progress - Salted - was runner up in Faber's Not Yet Published competition. Her short fictions have been published in many lovely places.
Sara's other Short Reviews: Miranda July "No-one Belongs Here More Than You"

Alison McLeod "Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction"

Zadie Smith (ed) "The Book of Other People"

Neil Smith "Bang Crunch"

Dave Housley "Ryan Seacrest is Famous"

Jen Michalski "Close Encounters"

Adam Maxwell "Dial M for Monkey"

Janine Bullman (ed) "Punk Fiction"

Maile Meloy "Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It"
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Stanley Donwood is the pen name of English artist Dan Rickwood. Donwood is known for his close association with the British rock group Radiohead, having created all their album and poster art. Aside from his work for Radiohead, Donwood also maintains his own website, Slowly Downward, where short stories and various other writings are published. His first short story collection, Slowly Downward, was published in 2005.

Read an interview with Stanley Donwood