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.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

"Wrote for luck" by D.J. Taylor (Galley Beggar Press, 2015)

These short stories, written from 1991 to 2014, have appeared in The Independent on Sunday, The Sunday Express, The Eastern Daily Express, the Mail on Sunday, and BBC Radio 4.

Many concern social/work situations that become awkward, with several lawns. There's some repetition of phrases too. Compare

  • "hedges rose on three sides to a height of eight or nine feet" (p.11) with "Hemmed in on three sides - the gardens came tightly packed" (p.47)
  • "there came a moment when the jigsaw of their association fell neatly into place" (p.14) with "From nowhere, half a dozen other images from that day in Ireland fell smartly into place" (p.52)
  • "The children's antennae ..., were finely tuned to the mention of restaurants" (p.37) with "his antennae were finely tuned to this kind of conversational shorthand" (p.47)

I think the language lapses sometimes -

  • "It was true, Claire acknowledged to herself, pushing the uneaten tomatoes to the edge of her plate. They had seen Hugo and Anna last time they came here. And Tom was weird. But friendships, Jamie's friendships, took no account of repetition or incremental oddity.
    'Well, it will be nice to see them again,' she found herself saying, to no one in particular. 'And now Mummy has to go.'
    " (p.37)
  • "long ships apparently motionless on the horizon, so slow-moving that they were almost inert" (p.66)
  • "Another thing about the new headmaster was his habit of not finishing sentences, of allowing these streams of words to dry up on the river-bed leaving only inference to re-hydrate them" (p.92)
  • "her hair was redder then he'd thought, Morris realised" (p.152) (correcting the "then/than" typo only helps a little)

I've seen "Some Versions of Pastoral" before. I think it works. So does "The Disappointed" and "Wonderland". But "Blow-ins", "Rainy Season", "Passage Migrants", "Birthday Lunch", and "Cranked up really high" more than make up for the better stories. All the pieces have credible characters who often make a decision during the story, but that's as far as it goes.

Typo on p.16 - "as if he were going to sat something"

Other reviews

  • James Smart (Art often clashes with commerce and modernity, and is usually elbowed aside ... Life ... is largely disappointing, and most relationships are failing. Yet if his stories tread similar ground, Taylor has a great knack of pulling the reader in, and his endings, which spin out into rather mournful, very British epiphanies, linger long in the mind.)
  • James Kidd (The overriding mood of Taylor’s 15 miniatures is of cut-glass melancholy culminating in epiphanies of existential gloom. ... The grand theme is loss – of an age passing, of ideals compromised by material concerns, of love not living up to scratch.)
  • Jackie Law (I found [Some Versions of Pastoral] along with ‘Wrote for Luck’, ‘The Disappointed’ and the concluding tale, ‘Wonderland’, particularly poignant.)
  • JJ Marsh
  • Matilda Bathurst (The characters of D.J. Taylor’s Wrote For Luck are an unlucky bunch. Cursed by self-awareness amid the chattering classes, his loveable bluffers and tragic Cassandras fight for intellectual superiority against a slough of biddies, bimbos and incorrigible bores. ... there’s no denying that Taylor is a master of his art. Then again, there are only so many wry little disappointments, so many narratives left poignantly unravelled before you feel you’ve just read a manual on how to write the perfect short story.)

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