A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Vulpes Libris regulars might remember that Regi Claire recently wrote us a moving Soapbox article about the effects of illness on creativity.
In her collection of short stories, Fighting It, as the title suggests, each of the protagonists is fighting against something in their lives. That ‘something’ might be cancer, an unkind spouse, adulterous impulses or even a mental condition that leads to violent tendencies.
The collection is strongly-themed, something very important to me in a book of short stories. I need to feel that the pieces are grouped together for a reason. Ideally, I want the stories to shed light on each other. To make me think wider than the individual pieces at hand. Fighting It is very successful in this regard, but of course some stories work better than others. One of my favourites is the title story, in which “Loony Laura,” a female misogynist and exercise addict, flips out in her prison cell and endangers her cat. Another favourite is ‘Heat,’ a lushly written account of a wealthy woman’s affair and pregnancy, which has a rather Lawrencian flavour about it.
Bad decisions have an important role in Fighting It. The exceptional ‘Cool Room 3’ considers a middle-aged man who finally comes to the end of his tether with his noisy family and dumps them at the side of the road, with unforeseen consequences. Alice in ‘Snow White and the Prince’ believes she made a terrible mistake early in life, and this heavy regret mars the rest of her days. However, as Louise Welsh points out in the Introduction, “Fighting It suggests worlds where choices can be made, though sometimes the options available come from a poor and dwindled stock.” Michelle in ‘Everybody Goes Crazy Once in a While’ tries to put her life on the course it should have taken but finds that her power is limited, at best, to herself; she can’t force the world to accept her.
Cats and dogs have starring roles in the stories, and these animal companions weave their own thread through the collection. ‘The Marilyn Monroe of the Meadows’ is a deeply affecting story about a woman walking her poorly dog, Bonnie. Dog-lovers who have lost their own old canine companions will be particularly moved by the evocative account of the last moments Heather spends with her beloved retriever. This is the final story in the collection and we are right there with Bonnie fighting off death and Heather fighting off the acceptance that her dog is leaving her. It is a painful story that made me love the whole collection that little bit more.
The least successful of the stories for me was ‘I Call her Salome’, a story which begins with a French Ambassador’s wife, and one in which I found it almost impossible to immerse myself. I felt that ‘I Call her Salome’ and a couple of the other pieces suffered from being a tad too long, but in fairness I should declare my general preference for the shortest of short stories.
‘Russian Blue’, a slightly surreal tale about a disturbed patient on the run from a facility was a weird and wonderful addition to the collection. Regi Claire has a gift for capturing the mental imbalances of her marginalised characters and she never resorts to cliché.
The stories are spread over a wide variety of settings, in different countries, times and societies and the reader is left with the impression that they have looked through crystal clear windows into brightly-painted worlds. Louise Welsh calls Fighting It a “truly fabulous collection”, and I’d have to agree. For vivid insights into the human spirit under stress, I’d highly recommend Fighting It.
Two Ravens Press. ISBN-13: 978-1906120412, 176 pages, paperback. £7.99 direct from TRP with free U.K. delivery.
To win a FREE copy of Fighting It, simply leave a comment below. Draw on Sunday 31st May. Good luck!