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, 14 August 2019

"All That Is Between Us" by K.M.Elkes (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2019)

Stories from Litro, Reflex Fiction, Structo, Flash (Chester), Forge, etc, in 3 sections - "Parents and Children", "Couples and Lovers", and "Friends and Strangers".

The overall standard's impressively high. Perhaps because the author is a short-story writer rather than a poet or a theorist, the stories suit my taste - they don't seem desperate to squeeze everything in. They don't shake themselves apart because the discontinuities are more controlled. For example, the elements in the following extract could have been presented as a wild list, but are linked by sub-themes (soul and confession; opening up and hiding)

'My soul's too hard. I want to crack it like a walnut,' she said.
After he took off her shoes and warmed her toes, she sniffed his fingers and whispered: 'Your hands smell of feet.'
She lay back on the bed, her hair draped over her face. He could see the shine of her eyes through it, like a priest staring from the other side of a confessional.
'I get trapped in a terrible deckchair accident and fold myself in half while the stripy seat fabric wraps round my throat. Before I choke to death, the last thing I smell are my own feet.'
He said: 'That's very characterful. But I think we both know you're not the sort to attempt to unfold, let alone sit, in a deckchair.'

I liked "Giraffe High", "You Wonder How They Sleep", "Fair Weather", "The King of Throwaway Island", "Flabberjacks". p.73-83 is a good patch just when you might expect the book to sag. I wasn't so keen on the early "Biological", which tackles a common topic (re-uniting with biological parent) in 4 pages but doesn't do enough with it. Nor "Knowledge" (an Eden retread) or "The Knock of the Broom" (too bland). "My father, who ate a tree" makes a change, but it's not for me. I don't understand the end of "The Noise was blades" or "it is always good to have a moon (two would be better) in your back pocket" (p.9). There's variety - "The Relationship Algorithms" is good SF, "A Secret Weight" is a weepie. In "Love, Labour, Loss" there's too little motivation for the self-sabotage, though the components are appealing. "That Greta Woman and the Chrysanthemum Man" has the plot, and sometimes the pace, of a short story.

The language isn't over-flowery. Here are some of the similes - "[baby's] plump hands gripping like tiny, soft-shelled crabs" (p.3), "the smell of their scalps. like a freshly cooked poem" (p.10), "tree roots have breached the surface, like the backs of whales coming up for air" (p.20)

Typo: "it would a treat for Alice" (p.25)

You can read some of the stories online - "Future tense", "The conservation of angular momentum".

Other reviews

  • Goodreads
  • Shannon Savvos (I liked all the stories even those that perplexed me (‘The Noise was Blades’ is a puzzler), felt a connection with some of them and adored a few: ‘A Secret Weight’, ‘Dry Run’, and ‘Manhattan, 2am’ all stood out for me. I loved ‘The King of Throwaway Island’)
  • Rachael Smart (Many of these stories speak the language of manual labour, of the domestic, of making do, the words of hard knocks. ... A personal favourite is ‘Still Warm’ ... Readers will find hands that nurture, hands that cut, hands that are lost, hands of course, being the writer’s tools, the labourer’s livelihood.)

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