Tales of the DeCongested Vol. 2
edited by Paul Blaney and Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

Apis Books, 2008 Paperback

Editors: Paul Blaney is a short story writer who teaches at Rutgers University. He is a co-founder of Tales of the DeCongested. Four of his stories appeared in Desperate Remedies (Apis Books) in April 2008.

Born in Kenya, Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone now lives and works in Bethnal Green. Co-founder of Tales of the DeCongested, a monthly short story reading event held at Foyles Bookshop in Charing Cross Road, she is a partner of Apis Books, an independent publishing company for shorter fiction, and teaches creative writing at City University. Home, published by Social Disease, is her first novel.

"My father married into money, or at least into the remains of money. It was my grandfather who made good when he opened his first sports store in our town. With the profits, he built a department store. For a while, Grandfather’s acumen and an economic boom turned good years into great ones. Marvelous things were predicted for his four children."

Reviewed by Daniela I. Norris

An eclectic mix of stories from 35 different writers, who have all read their work at the Tales of the DeCongested's live event, held monthly in the dedicated performance space at Foyles Bookshop, Charing Cross Road in London. Set up in 2003 by Paul Blaney and Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone, Tales' mission is to raise the profile of the short story in London and to provide a platform for new writing.

This admirable effort resulted in a first anthology published in 2006 and this recent second one, which includes some baffling, bordering on the bizarre tales weaved together with some truly inspiring ones. This is not a bad thing – as reading through this collection often feels like visiting an amusement park. Which ride will I go on next? Will it be an emotional rollercoaster or an eye-opening experience?

Some rides are more enjoyable than others, but this largely depends on the preferences of the reader. Magical Realism (the beautifully written The Dead Boy at Your Window by Bruce Holland Rogers) that tugs at the strings of hopeful readers' hearts, alongside a somewhat incomprehensible story titled The Day Everybody in the World's Arsehole Disappeared (yes, this is the real title, and the subject-matter of the story) by Richard Tyrone Jones.

A lasting impression is left by Kate Henderson's brilliant story titled Pulling In – this is a story told in the first person by a tired commuter who stopped at a road-side station. What does she find there? This story is definitely one of the highlights of this collection – plot, tension-building and character description are an obvious forte of this promising writer.
"I choose an empty table by the window, as faraway from anyone else as I can get, and slide into the plastic seat. I slip down, my body slumping a little lower than my coat which stays upright, its collar high around my ears, but I don't try to right myself. I pull my handbag closer in towards me, feeling a need to keep it safe… …I think my sanity might be inside, neglected at the bottom and covered in tissue fluff, but in desperate need of protection all the same. Looking up, I catch my reflection in the window and feel sorry for who I see. She's small, alone, in need of looking after. But I am not going to be the one to do it, not this time. I can't…. ….I try to look past myself to the blankness of the night beyond the glass, but all I can see is the reflection of the restaurant area behind me, its bright lights and corporate cheerfulness an odd backdrop to the worn-out woman slumped at the front."

It seems that the editors of this collection were determined to include something for everyone – the stories are all written in very different styles, while the common thread is the fact that these are mostly debut writers – some whose talent is as obvious as a crow in the snow – as well as others who seem to be trying to test the readers' patience and dedication.

Still, you won't be able to resist turning the pages. Don't miss Heidi James' flash fiction piece titled Gifts, which will leave you wondering about who, why and how. Daniel Jeffreys' Cosmic Arboretum is a beautiful tale set in a different era and space:
"The café in the village square was once a well-known haunt of agitators who, in my youth, scribbled polemics on the back of menus. They were mopped up pretty much after the General came to power. You still see a few of them floating around: humming melodies in the rose garden for loose change. The more daring ones still give music lessons if there's a safe-house, properly sound-proofed, on the coastal road."
Stuart Green's The Jogger is one of those city-set tales that will resonate with many of us, as is the splendid story by Frank Goodman titled Underneath the Masts.
"Clive lived out near one of those radio masts that you can see from the trains that head south from London Bridge station. I was never sure which one, but I remember standing out in his garden during parties looking up at it, watching the little red lights winking away above the chimney pots and TV aerials. I remember wondering what it was like to be up there, up above the city with the endless spidery network of lights spread out below."
Another special treat is the slightly baffling but highly entertaining story by Andrew Lloyd-Jones, titled For Sale.
"Dan's flat was in the window of the estate agent. As far as he was aware, however, it wasn't for sale. …
    'Excuse me,' Dan said to the girl in the suit. 'I was wondering about one of the flats in the window.'
    'Yes,' she said brightly. 'Which one?'"
Indeed – I loved some of the stories, and disliked others. Reading this collection is like a raffle where everyone wins something – it just depends on your literary taste. You could walk home with a gruesome troll figurine or with a real nugget of gold – and this totally depends on which page you open the book. But do not hesitate – do invest in it. You can take it on a train ride, to the beach, to bed on a dark and stormy night. You won't have a boring moment, and are sure to experience a stunning spectrum of contemporary writing.

Read a story from this collection in Flash Fiction Online

Daniela I. Norris is a former diplomat, turned writer. The author of numerous short stories, articles and two books due out in early 2010, she is currently working on a series of political thrillers set at the United Nations in Geneva. She is Contributing Editor with the Geneva Times and book reviewer on World Radio Switzerland's Bookmark program.
Daniela's other Short Reviews: Lynne Patrick (ed) "Criminal Tendencies"

Dede Crane "The Cult of Quick Repair"

Alexandra Leggat "Animal"
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