Vulpes Libris

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.

Not So Perfect Stories by Nik Perring: of perfection and imperfection

22 short short stories; 22 not so perfect lives. Bird watchers come out at night, couples perform love surgery, and a woman is throwing up animals. The extraordinary is everywhere, but an unsettling familiarity pervades.

Reading the blurb here, I was puzzled as to why it should be seen as odd that bird watchers come out at night as … um … some birds do, but yes I know I’m picky! And quite possibly very sad. Anyway this will be a not-quite-as-mini review for a charmingly mini book. I must say though that Nik Perring is one of my online writing friends, and I’m mentioned in the acknowledgements page, so please bear all of that in mind. Prejudices apart, it’s a delight to at last have a collection of short (very short) stories from this author, and they’re certainly an interesting and worthwhile mix. Perring writes with a delicious hint of Murakami, but an anglicised one, and I did enjoy getting into his surreal and peculiar worlds.

However, feel free to call me an old fuddy-duddy (many do) but I didn’t really go for the very small format of the book – it reminds me far too much of children’s literature and I would have preferred something actually adult book-sized with fewer pages; a chapbook of stories would have been perfectly (sorry!) fine. That said, I suspect this size issue is a gimmick from the publisher. I also didn’t appreciate the (again) child-like drawings scattered throughout the pages very much – to my mind, this is a grown-up (but not naughty) collection and the stories themselves didn’t sit well with the drawing style, though the cover is magnificent. Perfect in fact.

Speaking of perfection, these are my favourites in the collection:

When You’re Frightened, Honey, Think of Strawberries – a seriously perfect piece of flash fiction and, I think, my out and out favourite.

Lump – a precise and deeply felt story about a sexual encounter and an underlying medical issue.

My Heart’s in a Box – the cutting edge (in more ways than one) of love and discovery.

Say My Name – a devastatingly sorrowful look at how loss of social interaction can affect people.

In My Head I’m Venus – a sharply told and sharply amusing story about how fantasy is so much better than reality …

Where Did He Go, You Wonder – a bitter and powerful tale about the slow falling apart of a marriage.

Number 14 – a surreal and almost cautionary story demonstrating that the postman can never really deliver what you most want. And I did so love the concept of a woman’s house being a rainbow of squares – fabulous.

Set against these delights, we have some stories that are not quite so (um) perfect, to my mind. These are:

Kiss – too sentimental at the end. It would have been sharper if the words spelled out had been: I never liked madras, you wretched woman! But, heck, I know I’m no romantic.

Bare and Naked in Siberia – the story changes tack half way through, for no apparent reason, and I lost the very powerful drive at the start.

The Other Mr Panossion – this built up the tension of the child’s viewpoint very well, but I didn’t quite get the ending. I apologise if I’m simply being idiotic – I guessed what it was but I’m not entirely sure …

I had a similar reaction to The Angel in the Car Park and actually this one could have done with being longer too.

Speaking of which, there is here a whole series of stories that, although grippingly written, I personally feel are the beginnings of tales only and need to be much longer in order to reveal their true form. Amongst these are: Shark Boy; My Wife Threw Up a Lemur; Seconds Are Ticking By; Pacifier; The Mechanical Woman; and Watching, Listening. One way round this might have been to introduce these “starter stories” as beginnings only, and leave the reader to ponder about how they might really be finished. Or perhaps that’s simply too quirky to be done?… In any case, it’s a missed opportunity for these ones, I feel, and I hope Perring can revisit them at some point.

I’m also interested to see that Perring describes short stories as his “real love”; he’s very good indeed at them, yes, but in fact I do feel that statement is rather premature and that he’d be well advised not to be afraid of writing in the longer form also. As I’ve mentioned above, some of these offerings do feel like the start of stories only and need at least some expansion to find their true heart. I’ve also, as an aside, read a very powerful and perfect unpublished novella by Perring, in which his marvellously unique and off-the-wall voice really comes into its own. I’d certainly like to see more of that length of fiction from him in the future, and so I believe would others. In the meantime, this is a tasty collection and is likely to whet your appetite for more.

Not So Perfect, Roastbooks 2010, ISBN: 978 1 906894 07 8

[Anne always enjoys an interesting short story collection. To read some of her own distinctly imperfect stories, please click here]

About annebrooke

Anne Brooke lives in Surrey, UK, and writes in a variety of genres, including gay erotic romance, fantasy, comedy, thrillers, biblical fiction and the occasional chicklit novel. When not writing, she spends time in the garden attempting to differentiate between flowers and weeds, and in the allotment attempting to grow vegetables. Occasionally, she can also be found in the kitchen making cakes. Every now and again, they are edible. Her websites can be found at: www.annebrooke.com, www.gayreads.co.uk, www.biblicalfiction.co.uk and www.gathandria.com (for fantasy fiction).

8 comments on “Not So Perfect Stories by Nik Perring: of perfection and imperfection

  1. Hilary
    June 9, 2010

    Thanks for the review Anne. I’ve been wondering about this book – so much about it that is not in my usual reading habit: short stories (indeed, VERY short stories), different format. You’ve convinced me I must read it.

    But the cover IS perfect – I’d probably have found myself unable to resist it anyway!

  2. Sarah
    June 9, 2010

    Great review – I’m so looking forward to reading this collection.

  3. RosyB
    June 9, 2010

    Aha! I’ve read this.

    I am not a big reader of flash fiction so I don’t know how conventional or otherwise these stories are but I have to say I found this whole collection incredibly refreshing. It was quick, easy to read and – for once – I found myself dashing through it with pleasure and no duty (which I shame-facedly admit I normally feel when faced with a short story collection).

    Now, here’s my take from a very uninitiated viewpoint. For me, the small book format really worked. Yes, there is the sense of a childlikeness…but for me it seems to reflect the playfulness of the collection and it made picking them up and getting stuck in far less intimidating. I love that cover – it has a surreal Eastern European look about it which probably has little to do with anything beyond the fact I love that look. I do agree about the line drawings, though, Anne. I felt they seemed a bit scrappy for a book – but I believe they were originally part of the e or digital version so perhaps it works better in that context.

    All that aside, I really like the way that Roast Books are experimenting with making books a very tactile and aesthetic experience – particular in this day and age of digital where such qualities are often being overlooked. So I don’t see that as a gimmick at all. But I recognise I’m very much a visual artyfarty and relate to all things tactile and aesthetic so I really like that.

    The thing I would say about the stories that struck me that you don’t mention here and I would be interested in finding out what you think about further is not just how they work individually – but how they work overall thematically and as a collection. I was very impressed by this. I felt the themes of love and relationships and the entertaining and slightly unsettling way the surreal events of the stories seemed to represent emotions and states of mind in a relationship, was really really powerful and interesting. I felt it was not so much a collection of individual stories – but very coherent as an entire book which is maybe why I – as someone who does not normally read many short story collections – enjoyed it so much.

    In this way, I didn’t feel the stories were unfinished as I did not feel they were developing naturalistic characters as such. I felt they were giving us many views and angles – like through fractured glass – of love and relationships.

    This is why I felt Kiss, for example (and I’m no sentimentalist, you know me, Anne!) worked – because it wasn’t literal but was about the part that was unsaid. And I thought the lemur story left a very unsettling feel about themes of love and also nurturing (and even reproduction) and the mixture of the cute and grotesque was very effective.

    I particularly liked the one about open heart surgery – (My Heart’s in a Box – which you pick out here) which was both romantic and disturbing. About the power dynamics within relationships.

    I think this is what I’m trying to say (she says very unclearly) – it’s like all the stories are looking at relationships through different lenses:

    power dynamics within relationship, what remains unsaid between two people who are guilty for each other for getting together but still love each other, the nature of nurture in a relationship (lemurs), fantasy in a relationship (I am Venus)…etc etc.

    In the main I thought they were terrific and as a collection they worked really well.

    My one downnote was actually the last story itself. I understood rationally why it was the last story but actually felt it was all wrong there and didn’t really fit in with the rest of them at all in tone and style. I would have preferred something else at the end.

  4. Nil Perring
    June 9, 2010

    Thanks for taking the time to read and to review (and to those who’ve taken the time to comment) – I’m thrilled you found something you could take from this, Anne.

  5. annebrooke
    June 9, 2010

    Thanks for the comments, all – and it was fascinating stuff, Nik! 🙂

    Axxx

  6. Jackie
    June 9, 2010

    I’ve been hearing a lot about this author, but have never read any of their work. From this review & the comments, it appears I’m really missing out on something. And it’s not often that one finds a lemur on a book cover.

  7. annebrooke
    June 9, 2010

    Very true, Jackie! A cute looking animal as well 🙂 Axxx

  8. Pingback: Flash Man: Interview with Nik Perring, Author of “Not So Perfect” « Vulpes Libris

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This entry was posted on June 9, 2010 by in Entries by Anne, Fiction: literary, Fiction: short stories and tagged , , .

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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