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.

Saturday 18 July 2015

"Don't try this at home" by Angela Readman (and other stories, 2015)

  • I liked the title story. It uses an idea I could have made a heavy-handed mess of. A wife repeatedly halves her partner who like a worm regenerates, so that alternative lives and regrets can co-exist. Here's the ending
    He is rich, and he is poor. He is tired, and loves skiing in Italy. He is ambitious, and has given in. We are happy, and bored. Sometimes I miss him. I see him look out of the window, wondering where part of him went. I stand beside him, handing him tea. And I wonder if someone somewhere is doing the same, looking out of windows, longing for the part of him that's with me.
  • In "Conceptual", a family live as concept artists. It's short, and works well. I have a postcard with a hole in the middle. It's by Yoko Ono and is entitled "A hole to see the sky through" - an idea which turns up in the story.
  • "Surviving Sainthood" was a good read too - the persona's brain-dead sister is thought by the mother to be a miracle worker.
  • In "There's a woman works down the chip shop" a mother starts taking on aspects of Elvis. "I noticed just how black my mother's hair really was. It was the sort of black that made me look at roads and crows and decide 'black' needed more names" (p.48). Girls are attracted.
  • In "Birds without wings" dad gives the persona a notebook with a quote on the cover - "A traveller without observation is a bird without wings". Mother and daughter go on a trip to Mexico where they see a bedridden, sleeping girl who's not eaten for 2 years, a performer of miracles.
  • "Shine on" has a telepathic mother who wants her baby back. It hits the ground running. Here's paragraph 1 -

    The shop is all about rabbits, ladybirds and drifts of blankets so soft I want to bury myself in the folds. There's barely time to be here, I know. The visit's at four. I've cleaned, but nothing smells of lemons. I'm out of furniture polish and I haven't been able to shine for days. I'm aching to shine, even for a second, so I drag my friends to Babylove to concentrate. Blake's laughing. Shania sucks a frozen lolly like a Sex Ed teacher gone rogue. It's October but that doesn't stop her. Once, I saw her buy ice cream in the snow like she was daring herself to feel all of the cold.
  • In "When we were witches" a mother gives her deformed daughter to a witch, who look after her, trains her up.

I'm more than halfway through and themes are emerging. Mothers are frequently the main character though not always the narrator. Mother + daughter relationships are commonly studied. The normal 1:1 mind:body ratio is sometimes disrupted. A physical lack is compensated for by some special power. Now some more stories -

  • "Everywhere you don't want to be" begins with "I saw the other me on a rainy day", which sounds familiar. The persona tries to befriend a bag-lady who's her older self, hoping to get relationship advice.
  • "Dog Years" doesn't work.
  • "The Keeper of the Jackalopes" is a return to form after 3 weaker stories. A taxidermist father and his daughter are threatened with eviction from the trailer park.
    The window lets in a strip of air thin as memory. Clary pours coffee. One for him. One for her: half milk, half coffee, one sugar per foot she has grown in the last few years. The footsteps on the walkway are curt. Each rap on the door is perfectly spaced, like someone learned at college how to knock right (p.115)
    In that sentence the first simile is odd, and the "foot" presumably means "foot in height" though it's still a strange phrase. Is "footsteps" close to "foot" by accident? Later
    Clary removes the deer eyes from her eyelids and gazes into their amber mirrors in her hands. Deer eyes would be cool. (p.117)
    At the end a shopkeeper who's keen to stock their goods might replace the missing mother.
  • "Catwoman had something" - "Mom looked at Judy and saw her future, if she was a different sort of girl" - does that sound familiar? Like some earlier stories, the main female character wants to present an image that will be popular to others. In this case perfume inherited from an aunt makes popularity all too easy.
  • "Boys like dolls" - Nathan has a soldier doll that talks to him.
    Upstairs, boy and doll lie with their eyes open. Joe doesn't sleep in the bed, he's not that sort of doll. His close-cropped hair is like Velcro. Everything sticks, stray feathers and lint. Nathan hears him under the bed, socks pulled over his chest like a sleeping bag, murmuring in the dark (p.159)
    We later learn that his absent father's a soldier. The dialogues between doll and boy become more alarming
    'Who did that?' he says. 'I didn't do it. Walking through the village, I saw two local children and gave them chocolate. Walking back, they were lying down, the wrapper still in their hands. I saw the "thankyou" still in the girl's throat. Cut. Open like a red flower' (p.162)
  • I liked it.

So more themes have emerged - shoplifting; human/animal mergers; absent other parent; late disclosure of main character's name. Is there wordplay? On p.147 someone scratches LANA on their arm, then there are reflections in a cafe window. Anal? On p.164 a boy wants to write "hero" but having written "he" he realises he's started too far to the right.

I thought "Don't try this at home", "Conceptual", "There's a woman works down the chip shop", "The Keeper of the Jackalopes" and "Boys like dolls" are sufficient to justify the book. Most of the other stories were at least interesting.

Other reviews

  • Ross Jeffery
  • Hattie Pierce
  • Jane Bradley
  • Bethany W Pope (Sabotage) (The writing is uniformly strong and the plots are satisfyingly complex, though the narrative voice doesn’t seem to alter much from story to story. They all seem to be spoken by a single person ... The strongest story in the collection also supplied the title)
  • Kirkus Reviews

1 comment:

  1. Dear Tim

    When I bought Lana Del Ray's first album, I soon noticed that her name spelt backwards read : Anal Led Y(e)ar.

    Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish