Daddy is a series of ten short stories that delve right into the heart of character. The stories work well collected together, as each seems to address some darker menace hovering below the normal-looking surface of people’s lives. Each main character has such a specific outlook that behaviours others may recoil from are presented as almost inevitable, sometimes regrettable, but still somehow impossible to avoid.
A father erases his past violent behaviour through the filter of memory and the insistence upon his own change (‘What Can You Do with a General’). Another father, in ‘Northeast Regional’, goes to his son’s school to sort out what will happen after his son assaulted another pupil, all while he’s trying to text a married woman he’s having an affair with. He knows his son only vaguely and is cross when his son’s girlfriend doesn’t eat the food she ordered for lunch. The girlfriend drops her fork and the waitress comes to pick it up and give her another. In a line that seems to sum up the strange mutable sense of individual morality the collection explores, Cline writes:
‘When she retreated, leaving Richard alone with his son and the crying girl, it occurred to him, with the delayed logic of a dream, that the waitress must have thought he was the bad guy in all this.’
Where do you go when your parents are killed in a car crash and you have no immediate family? Where do you feel most safe? The new house your parents have just moved to, or the old one, the one you have most memories in, the one that might still hold remnants of your parents, the odd sock fallen and lost into the places no one thinks to look?
Elise is eleven. She remembers how to get into the house and she finds her way into the walls. A new family live there now. A couple with two boys, the youngest, Eddie, almost two years older than her. He is quiet, considered odd because, amongst other things, he doesn’t like the sounds people make when they eat and has his supper apart from his family. He doesn’t tell them about the lego figure that moved inside his carefully constructed castle, or the books that go missing for days. His big brother thinks playing with lego is lame, that he needs to grow up, to stop being so weird.
I’m so excited to announce the launch of my soundwalk, One Circuitous Path: a retelling of the Minotaur myth. Released today, listen or download the sound piece here and sign up for the socially distanced event here. Part of #SoundWalkSeptember 2020 the piece is just over 20 minutes long and asks you to reimagine what might really have been at the heart of that labyrinth in Crete. With music by Ruth Bulman and voices by Bronwen Price and Christopher Simpson it’s a mythic feast for the ears. Do take a listen.
Coin Locker Babies is really hard to summarise. It explores the lives of two boys abandoned by their mothers at birth in coin lockers in Yokohama, Japan. They find each other at the Cherryfield Orphanage and though they are very different, their origins force them into an intense and complex bond of brotherhood that seethes with an undercurrent of need, fear and violence.
The novel seems to begin as one thing and then part way through becomes something else. This isn’t to say that Coin Locker Babies lacks an overarching narrative drive, that’s not quite what I mean, rather that it was hard to anticipate where the plot might turn and while this can be an exciting feeling, I confess to being frustrated at times by where the boys and their lives seemed to be going. But, and this is crucial, it is a hard novel to forget.
I’m wary of campus novels. There is an allure but also an expectation that I will be about to meet a whole load of intense, self-obsessed and privileged characters whose wider understanding of the world feels limited to their age and experience in a way that isn’t always intoxicating and impassioned enough to mitigate my irritation. Real Life really is, as The New Yorker called it, ‘a new kind of campus novel’. Though the collegiate experience is central to the book, the main character Wallace so finely dissects the minutiae of human interaction, those millisecond pauses in which we read each others’ expressions and interpret each others language, in which we consider how much to say and how much to withhold, that I think I bent down almost half of the pages of the book.
Wallace is studying biochemistry. He has forged a new life for himself away from his roots in Alabama, roots that he rarely shares but that we are given in the only passage of first person that gives us the pain of his childhood abuse at first hand. His father has just died and he didn’t travel back for the funeral. When the book opens he hasn’t yet told his friends.
This is an absorbing and overwhelming novel. The flow and rhythm of the prose sucks you in and holds you enthralled. It is very difficult to put down as each new character brings a new perspective upon what happened to the witch found mutilated and floating in the canal near the village of La Matosa in Mexico. Who was the witch? How did she die? Was she even a she?
The relentless nature of the prose that flows without paragraphs, without a sense of breath almost, mirrors that of the oppressive sense of hopelessness that presses in on the characters. This is a village with few prospects for its inhabitants. Money seems to be made from living near the highway, from leaving and heading to the oilfields in the North, or from selling beer, drugs or sex. There is a desperation bred and fed by capitalist desires in a place where jobs are scarce.
What a delight to interview Heidi James on the publication of her novel, The Sound Mirror published by Bluemoose Books this August 2020. You can either take a look on my Authors QH page here, or just have a look here. We went from enforced silence to hauntology, abuse to language and back and there were even tears. You’ve been warned.
Pew is an extraordinary novel. Every word weighty with meaning, measured just so, held up to bright examination and understood to always, even with this level of care, be wanting. It’s a political, intersectional, theological and philosophical exploration of life from the viewpoint of a person who rarely speaks and who likes to sleep in churches when they’re tired.
Found one morning sleeping in a family’s regular pew, the local community is baffled by this person. What age are they? What race are they? Are they male or female? Why don’t they just help them out by speaking a little, by explaining themselves?
Set in Lagos, Black Sunday is a tale of four children attempting to overcome the misfortune placed upon them by their parents. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, for even though the novel is elegantly crafted to give us the perspectives of all four siblings, each chapter feeling like a contained story in and of itself, there is a real drive to the story as we eagerly turn the pages to find out what will happen to these children next.
Originally from a middle-class, educated family, their mother loses her job. Shortly afterwards their father is swindled out of all of his money by a pastor at their church and the family are left destitute. Their mother runs away to New York, leaving them behind with their father who soon abandons them to his mother. Their easy life is now filled with the worry of money and hunger.
I bought Quicksand & Passing after seeing it recommended by Emily Midorikawa on Instagram. I knew nothing about the book and didn’t really know what to expect. What I found was an inquisitive and eloquent voice that really transported me into the mind of Helga in Quicksand and Irene in Passing. I’m a huge fan of the concise, short novel (often really a novella by any other name). I love the way it can hone in on one theme or idea in a way that a longer work can struggle to sustain.
Both works tackle the concept of race in the 1920s, most specifically in America but touching on Europe too.