Delights within delights.
Such a short story collection is like exploring a jewellery box. Hours pass while poring over one gem, until another catches your eye. Forty stories by three writers: Susan Howe, Avery Mathers and Lee Williams. This collection makes the most of its three voices, allowing each to surprise, confide, horrify, uplift and amuse.
Many pieces could be extended into a larger work. The Unusual Death of Governor Li, Out of Hand and Gakapa, each with superbly realised concepts and distinctive voices, give the impression of being nascent novels. I was genuinely disappointed to reach the end.
Three differing writers make for a lively variety; from a housewife's transformation to a conman's comeuppance, a daughter's revelation to a shape-changer's final battle, post-apocalyptic tunnel-dwellers to the dead man who won't lie down, these stories light every corner of imagination.
Susan Howe's distinctive style illuminates the underbelly of the everyday. Her deft twists in The Beast Next Door and One Man's Meat reveal unexpected events behind suburban closed doors. Every tale is rooted in reality. Those beady eyes on the cover seem to sum up Howe's writing - she doesn't miss a single detail - and seems equally adept at both heart-warming and spine-chilling.
Avery Mathers does a neat turn with dialogue, spotlighting his characters and their quirks through idiosyncratic speech and interactions. A Different Question and Neemee and the Danger are wholly engrossing journeys; one into the past and memory, one along a country road. But the shifting plates of teenage perception and a child's logic take away all the signposts and make you wonder. Neemee is one of my favourite characters.
A certain amount of influence filters through the work of Lee Williams. Yet when it's done this well, I want to shout, watch your back, de Bernières, (The Unusual Death of Governor Li), Ishiguro (Changes), Lovecraft (Servants) and O'Brien (Restless Apple Jackson). From magic realism to gothic horror, this is a writer in full command of an immense talent, who can turn his hand to just about anything.
The collection's professionalism in presentation is flawless. In content, it stumbles occasionally. The few self-referential elements feel awkward, like something produced for friends and family rather than a contender for the general market. This is a shame, as it contains some priceless treasures which stand comparison to the best. Despite this minor quibble, I'd enthusiastically recommend this collection for its richness of material and trio of powerful voices. An ideal gift for a reader or writer.
Some of these stories will stay with me a long time.