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.
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]