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 3 March 2018

"You're Not Supposed to Cry" by Gary Duncan (Vagabond Voices, 2017)

Over 60 Flash pieces from "Flash" (Chester), "The Pygmy Giant", "Spelk", etc. They are stories rather than "texts". I was impressed by the consistent quality until a lapse around p.70 and then a falling off after p.113. There's humour, disappointment, and human interest. No bravura passages, no knockouts, just good person-centred writing - I'd tell short-story writers to read this book if they weren't convinced about the viability of Flash. The use of familiar surroundings and recognisable character types (very little LGBT, no foreign settings, magic realism or aliens) mean that the author can get straight into the plot. My favourites were "A Good Listener", "Better than this", "It waits", "Making a Splash", "While she sleeps", "Number 27", and "Rapeseed", though many of the other story are close. I can see why people might like "How not to make an exit" and "On Reflection We've decided We're Going to Keep You" even more than I do. There's a thorough interview online.


  • Pull-back-and-reveal - It's a standard literary/cinematic/comedy ploy. A significant detail is not disclosed until the end (though sometimes it's hinted at). Short pieces like this offers a variety of disclosures - varying in the timing of the reveal, but also in the awareness of the characters to the withheld information. When the characters know their situation but have reason to suppress awareness of it, the device is less artificial. In "While She Sleeps" the revelation (that I didn't anticipate) is the punchline. In "The Streets" clues accumulate. It begins with "The routine helps", then a counsellor is mentioned, then a wife, then it's suggested that he gets a dog, then 2/3rds into the story we're told about the child that the couple lost - a fact that the couple are trying to distract themselves from. In "Off-White" the main character towards the end admits to almost forgetting her situation.
  • Contested dominance - I started categorising the stories according to the characters: their number, gender and relative dominance, inventing a notation. So p.3 has a "M > F" story (one where a Male controls a Female). So has p.19. p.10 and p.20 have "F > M" pieces (Female wins over a Male). In p.79 a Female ties a predatory Male up. I gave up after a while, though I think it's a classification method worth pursuing.
  • Related to the above point is a submissive attitude to a (potential) sexual partner finding a new mate. p.5, p.10, p.100
  • On p.8 and p.14 there's a lone, sad Male. Lone males are usually sad.
  • Short-hand imagery includes excess dog-shit on pavements, hands on others' knees, high heels, and being tied spread-eagled on a bed
  • A few pieces fail for me because they reveal their main point early (if the reader's alert to Chekhov's guns) then don't surprise.


  • p.10 - I tried to anticipate the ending but got it wrong several times.
  • p.14 - Rather too linear.
  • p.29 - The last few paragraphs are wasted
  • p.34 - I didn't like the ending
  • p.40 - Too long. Could have begun far later
  • p.43 - I liked this. Right length
  • p.44 - It doesn't develop
  • p.47 - Plot and literary ploy are guessable.
  • p.65 - Post-apocalyptic?
  • p.69 - Too long
  • p.73 - Episodic rather than fragmentary
  • p.79 - It's called "Terms and Conditions" and features a sadist called Tania. Tania Hershman (a notable Flash writer) has a poetry book with the same title.
  • p.91 - One of the few pieces which is more a slice of life than a story.
  • p.100 - It sets up an interesting situation, then stops.
  • p.104 - Too long
  • p.130 - All dialogue

Other reviews

  • Goodreads (My favourites stories were Black And Blue, The Woods, Safe, In The Event Of A Zombie Apocalypse, The Fourth Wife, Uncle Colin, While She Sleeps, Rapeseed, Heavy Lifting and My Wife Left Me.)
  • Pamela Scott

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