Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Thursday 28 November 2013

"You have 24 hours to love us" by Guy Ware (Comma Press, 2012)

Identity is a key theme - "Witness Protection" is the title of the first story. Details of domestic settings are enmeshed in the tension of first encounters

There was a piano in the living room, with a row of framed photographs along the top. The piano itself was plain, unadorned - a functional box, not an item of furniture. On the rack, there was an open score: scrofulous gothic blots, slashing lines and elongated arrowheads scarred the creamy paper.
He said, 'Do you play?'
She handed him a mug of tea, made sure he had hold of it, before answering. 'You do, remember?'

Many of the other stories feature false memories, assumed names, or how State/social pressure may shape character development. In "Do I know you" a couple guess each other's life. In "Plain Sight" (partly in the sense of steganography) a distant President affects the life of a loner on a mountain. In "Staying put", 2 characters (an artist and a minister of a totalitarian state) spar

The minister said, 'You're late.' Something about his manner - perhaps the way he rose from his desk as he spoke, gesturing towards the chair placed alone in the middle of the vast office - gave Grin the impression that the minister's impatience was more formal than real, part of a game.
'I apologise, Minister.'
That seemed to rouse his suspicion. 'I expect that fool of a driver was late? or drunk?'
Grin said, 'The driver was quite punctual. And sober, as far as I could tell.'
The minister laughed. 'Now I know you're lying.' He watched Grin closely, smiling. 'Don't worry, we don't shoot people any more.'

I don't get the ending of that story though. In "Cities from a Train" the plot plays with Living, Reliving, and Unliving - there's a disease that causes sufferers to mentally regress then spontaneously recover some abilities. In "Hostage", someone wakes as a different person then plays the part of the person they've become. It begins "All the way home she had the feeling something wasn't right". In "Isolation" (which is rather a departure from the norm) a journalist visits a leper colony. In a parallel thread we see things more from a leper's perspective (this isn't not the only 2-PoV piece).

I bought this because I was so impressed by "All Downhill from Here" when I read it in "London Magazine". It still impresses, though the other stories from "Isolation" to the end don't so much, nor does the short "Weathering". "Aria ..." is structurally different from the other pieces, though the detached characters are recognisable. In "The Truth" the narrator is on trial for terrorism. We learn how the defence constructs his personality. In "Safe House" two people who take the same route home interact to no great effect.

I like the themes and the style of writing. None of the pieces become thought experiments or SF, though that tendency is there. Perhaps I grew too used to the themes as I progressed through the book. Seeing each of these stories amongst those of others in an anthology I think I'd have been even more impressed, envious. A book that's well worth reading all the same.

Other reviews

  • Aiden O’Reilly (Short Review) (A common thread is that the identity of the self is elusive. It can be redefined from outside or is liable to be suddenly warped. In some stories the character is at risk of losing his identity and memories ... in a few cases the stories lack a certain commitment and courage, or stray from their core premise and lose some of their impact)
  • Stuart Evers (Independent) (Even in the best stories there are wrong notes, cracked sentences, moments of confusion, that can undermine the fluency of Ware's fiction. These missteps are frustrating but do not wholly detract from a daring and refreshing collection)
  • Mikaela Byers (Dura) (This focus on the intimate and personal is present in all of Ware’s stories; it is through the small details of life that intimacy is created between the readers and Ware’s characters, but these small everyday moments are set against dystopian worlds and unusual backdrops. However, a lack of confidence or hesitancy in some of the stories leaves the reader with a sense that something is missing)

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