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, 26 January 2022

"A kind of heaven" by David Almond (Iron press, 1997)

Stories from Stand, Iron, Panurge, BBC radio 4, etc. Mums going off with young sons. Young sons noticing that men like their mother. Childhood friends who meet up after years.

  • "A kind of heaven" - 3rd person. Tom's PoV. He likes stars - the Archer constellation. His mum takes him on the bus from their coastal village into Newcastle. Cold streets lined with stalls. A street performer, old Harris, specialises in self-harm. They return to their cosy home. Tom has experimented with a friend to find out how sensitive different parts of the body are to pin-pricks. He experiments on himself, losing the needle. There's talk of cold war. His parents love each other. He hears them talking, making love, 'And for the first time Tom understood his isolation, his exclusion from them. The heaven they described was theirs, and could exists only in memory, in the years between the war's end and his birth'. He goes to Newcastle again, this time with his father. His father had come to know troubled Harris on the way back from (wartime?) Egypt. His father wants to help Harris, but Harris doesn't want to talk about it. On the way home Tom asks "What's with with her?". His father too quickly says "Nothing". In his bedroom that night he looks out - 'How long would it be until the stars dispersed, until the arrow was released? .... He whispered "When will it begin?"'. As he turns to be bed, the lost needle pricks him. 'Would her pain be similar to this ... What would happen when she could not calm it, when there was no peace? ... Would her fear be similar to this? ... "I feel nothing," he whispered'.
    The street scenes are vivid, the dialogues convincing. Symbolism abounds. Hot/cold and Inside/outside contrasts are used. "The archer" seems contrived though. The madman's self-inflicted, displayed pain is contrasted with the mother's future problems, and Tom's attempts to understand. Global war is contrasted with private distress.
  • "Fiesta" - The boy's parents often argue. Suddenly his mother sneaks him out of the house - to Bilbao, then a coastal village. One day a stage is being assembled in the square. Street performers gather. She puts him to bed and goes off with Luciano. Next day boy and hungover mother walk in the mountains, taking a cable-car. They meet pilgrims on the way to Santigo. He asks if they can go too. Back in the village they separate. From a distance he watches tightroper walker Luciano perform. Later 'he sees how she keeps glancing from side to side, as if searching for him, but wary of finding him. She grips Luciano tight'. The boy hears Luciano perform with his appreciative mother in bed. He returns to the streets where he starts learning from the fire-eaters.
  • "Lucy Blue" - It starts with 'I'd not seen Lucy Blue for years, and then the parcel came: the key to her house, the sharpened knife, the scribbled note: Key will let you in. Knife will end it. Please come to me. Set me free'. Lucy lived in a remote headland cottage with a drunk sailor father. Her mother was found drowned. The female narrator visits, sees Lucy and her mother's ghost by the light of the lighthouse, then gets in position to kill the approaching father.
    Doesn't work. Maybe we're supposed to think that Lucy wants her friend to kill her?
  • "Instead of the scheme" - Narrator Rob and wilder, freshly-tattood Mickey skip a work scheme on a hot Friday and instead go to Tynemouth beach. Mickey chats a girl up and swims off with her. A family man, taking a break from his kids, chats to Rob. He says that he made real things - ships and rigs - and he supports Rob skiving from making a heritage museum from a church. Rob waits for hours, then swims to Mickey and the girl in the next cove. She's nice to Rob, says she walked out of a work scheme, says that Mto tickey rather admired him. When he starts shivering they warm him with their bodies. He wants to stay there.
  • "After the abandoned wharves" - A postman (sterile - his wife wants children) doesn't like entering the run-down Balmoral area. He sometimes throws their mail (court summons's etc) away. His wife would like to foster the waifs there. A girl leads him to a sack of puppies. He releases them. She takes him to her home. He sees that the dad and girl are happy. But what about their dangerous-looking dog?
  • "Where your wings were" - The narrator's mother sometimes checks his shoulders for wings - his little sister, Helen ("a little angel") died. He goes to church, confesses to beginning to have thoughts about women. He begins to dream of naked female angels. They take him to see Helen, who says she's ok. Then he's taken to see God asleep. At the story's end he's happy to accept that dreams are only dreams.
    Not for me.
  • "Dogs" - The shortest story so far - 3 pages or so. Paul wants to kill a dog. Lee doesn't. Paul's father had told him that dogs mate with women. His mother had laughed at the idea. When Paul comes home after dark his father says 'He's no pup you know'. In bed Paul hears his father's growls from the next room. Soon Paul will wake howling..
    Not for me.
  • "Beacon hill" - Pete's 1st person PoV. On a regular country walk with his dad he sees a couple make love. There's going to be a big housing development on the site. Each Sunday they assess progress. His father's awe-struck by the speed. He wants Peter to leave, to improve himself, not become one of the many navvies now seen around town. Peter's mate is Jacker. They meet to share fags that Peter's stolen from his dad. It's Jacker who he saw shagging the girl - "She was dying for it". Jacker offers to give Peter a go with the girl too. But on the big night, the girl doesn't turn up, only Jacker. Instead there's a hint of a homo-erotic encounter.
  • "Spotlight" - PoV is a first-person mother. She plus little son Antony and husband moved from a rough city to the countryside. There are old mines, disaster sites, a monument. Antony plays hide-and-seek in the dark using a torch. She follows him out one night, gets lost, sees ghosts of children rising from the earth.
  • "Nesting" - Now that her husband's gone she doesn't want her son Stephen (who was 12 when his father left) to stop going out in the evenings. He was born while the estate where he'd always lived was being built. She's scared of burglars. It's a rundown seaside town with spoil-heaps. He sniffs glue in abandoned cottages. One night while he's in bed his father returns (or is it a dream?) to tell him not to fall for the capitalist dream, and not to marry. Sometimes she tells Stephen (because he used to ask) about what it was like during her pregnancy. He used to like collecting birds eggs. He kept them under his bed. Recently though he's been smashing eggs and snorting lighter fluid. He doesn't want a job that involves "improving" the area. The last line is '"I'll protect you, Mam. I'll stay inside..."'
  • "1962" - It begins with a sort of prologue - 'These things happened so long ago. For anything at all to happen then, there needed to be pretty ones, and there needed to be the beasts. There were Daniel and Askew, my friends; my mother who was taken from us at the start; the tramp, who came soon afterwards to live in our dunes. And there was me, and there was my father, living somewhere in the spaces in between.'. First person PoV Steve plus his dad visit Steve's mother in hospital. In the early days his father had promised his mother and escape from their surroundings. It had never happened. Steve plays with his mates Askew and Daniel. From outside, he watches Dan in his house happy with his parents. The boys track a tramp who's recently arrived in the area, a war-veteran who Steven's father feels sorry for. He smells like a beast. The mother is returned home very ill. When the tramp tries to approach the house Steve threatens him with a knife. Later on the beach Askew pins Daniel down as an offering to the tramp. The tramp howls. Afterwards, Daniel was free, and Steve was looking at an old photo of his mother. His father, in excitement, yells "Tom ...! Tom ...! Oh Tom...!"
    The ingredients are much the same as the first story. Indeed, the two may well be designed to be read together.

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