I often struggle with short stories. I really want to like them. I buy a book or read a review and get all excited, and then, somehow, they are just too easy to put down. I was fed up with having story collections clogging up my bedside table, making me feel guilty, so I'd not bought any in a while. Then I heard Jackie Kay on Radio 4's 'Teenage Diaries' programme and thought 'I must read something by this warm, funny, wonderful woman. Immediately.'
I'm not cured entirely, 'Reality' sat on my shelf for a few weeks, dipped into occasionally, but basically unloved. Then slowly, slowly, it started to pull me in. The voices are wonderful. With (I think) only one exception, these are intimate, first person accounts of women going about their lives, whether fantastical or mundane. Each character is noticably different, somehow very well-drawn, even although I feel the characterisation must happen when I'm looking the other way. Despite the differences, the warmth shines through in every story.
As well as warmth there is sadness and disappointment. Difficult issues such as dementia and people trafficking are dealt with just as powerfully (and perhaps more digestibly) as they would be in a novel. To paraphrase a review quote from the back cover, Kay does sentiment without sentimentality, and it's powerful stuff. There is also humour - flashes abound in even the darkest tales and 'Mini Me' is a comic delight. There is also a sprinkling of magic realism here. I found those stories slightly less engaging than the others, although that's probably just personal preference.
I know already that this writing will stay with me, which is always the hallmark of a good novel. How much more skillful to achieve that within twenty pages?