by Carol Reid
A strong sense of place and
of being out of place pervades many of the pieces included here.
The mean streets of Trenton,
New Jersey provide the backdrop for the opening story, Stealing Jimmy Dean,
by Cynthia Medford Langley. The narrator is a truant semi-delinquent
teenaged girl who spends a day joyriding with her even more delinquent
boyfriends and, through a drunken mishap, a fifty year old black man in
a trilby hat.
Jon Elsom's Commission
is told through the eyes of an expatriate Englishman selling door to
door in a Western Australia suburb. His ineptness as a blackmailer
proves equal to his failure as a salesman.
by Thomas Jerome Seabrook deals with a divorced man's solitude in what
was the marital weekend cottage during the mourning period of a dead
marriage, written with an engaging, simple elegance.
by Philip Makatrewicz explores the strange case of Polish brothers,
Patrik and Jacek, now called Paddy and Jack, the latter of whom is
turning into a dog. This is a squalid but entertaining tale.
The landscape of madness
makes for a harrowing story in Gul Y. Davis's Beneath the Fire.
This stream of consciousness piece puts the reader inside the psyche of
a woman who has been burned in a fire, the circumstances of which
become horribly clear as the narrative plays out.
The protagonist of Thea
White Light attempts to cast
off her old life while on extended holiday on a Greek Island, but the
threads of Destiny prove difficult to unravel.
Pippa Griffin presents an uncomfortable journey into her narrator's
sexual obsession with a film of a young figure skater and the ensuing
debasement of his life and relationships.
by J.D. Keith is a noisy, jumbled story, in which a fundamentalist
congregation offers both worldly and spiritual salvation to a young
gangster hiding from the law.
Gap of Sky
by Anna Hope follows protagonist Ellie's quest for printer ink as she
recovers from a whopping hangover. The ink remains just out of reach
but she experiences a sort of epiphany in a New Age shop.
is a standout in this collection. Anupama Kumari Gohel's beautifully
written, wistful story of the end of an arranged marriage is full of
authentic human feeling and ordinary struggle. Lovely and poignant.
Melissa de Villiers's The Confidence Trick
is a sad, disturbing story of a young pregnant woman used as a drug
mule into South Africa, with predictably dangerous consequences.
selection is With His
Own Two Hands
by Albert Garcia. This history of a young man's relationship with his
Mexican-American grandfather is told with honesty, humanity and an
evolving self-awareness which makes for a satisfying and memorable read.
by Matthew Weait is one of the more surprising pieces in this
collection. It begins as a tale of a cruise and a fading marriage but,
with the unexpected addition of pirates, becomes something else
entirely- a story of self-discovery and loyalty with more than a touch
Paul Martin's story, Goose,
is a melancholy and somewhat perplexing short piece which deals with
grief, atonement and man's thoughtless brutality toward creatures
perceived as "other".
In contrast, the brutality
in Olga Knezevic's In
is deliberate and overwhelming. This is a nightmarish story of human
trafficking and a woman who makes her living from this reprehensible
trade. The revelation that she too was brutalized as a child does
little to redeem the situation or elicit sympathy for the character.
Josh Raymond is a gentle story of two lonely, bereft people - a young
British man and a Quebecoise woman - meeting and spending a night
All or Nothing
by Alison Huntingdon, a remarkable character study set literally on the
London streets and the banks of the Thames. Very moody, very damp, a
satisfying conclusion to an intriguing collection of new work.
These seventeen pieces more
than hold their own against the stories by the established authors.
Toby Litt's Paddy and
is told mostly through conversation between the two rather affected
title characters, who discuss the pros and cons of adultery, divorce
and analog versus digital. Potassium
by Sarah Salway examines the psyche of a socially inept man and his
journey toward self re-invention. Last
Night of the
by Ali Smith makes some use of the ingenuity of Scheherazade, but here
a man and woman heading home after a holiday tell unfinished stories,
perhaps to keep their relationship alive.
I wasn't certain what the
connection was of these authors to the Birkbeck program and their
contributions didn't particularly enhance the collection, which is
worth a read, with or without them.
Carol Reid is an amateur
short story writer and an assistant fiction editor for Sotto Voce
Publisher: MA Creative
Writing, Birkbeck University of London.
the Introduction by Susan Elderkin - "Birkbeck is an
that all its classes are held in the evenings. This means that the
students it attracts are like Leunig’s blob man. They are
people who already have proper lives, with jobs and families. They are
people who are all too aware that there are more reliable ways of
earning a living, more enjoyable ways of spending their time. People
who should and do know better; but who nevertheless choose to close the
door on everything else for long swathes of time and wrestle with their
inner book – because the urge to write is strong,
unfathomable and unrelenting."
Jon Elsom; Thomas Jerome Seabrook;
Philip Makatrewicz; Gul Y. Davis; Thea Bennett; Pippa
J.D.Keith; Anna Hope; Toby Litt; Anupama Kumari Gohel; Sarah
Melissa De Villiers; Albert Garcia; Matthew Weait; Paul Martin; Ali
Smith; Olja Knezevic; Josh Raymond; Alison Huntington.
this book (used or
Publisher's Website: Birkbeck, University of London
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