`Stories for Homes' - such a great idea. An anthology of all-new stories and poems with Home-based themes, written and donated free by established and up-and-coming authors to entertain and raise money for Shelter, the charity for housing and the homeless. No less than 63 separate tales and verses to tug at your heartstrings or tickle your funny bone - and all for under a fiver!
I'm so enjoying reading my way through this eclectic collection. The opening tale by Mandy Berriman, `A HomeWithout Moles,' is such a delight. It is narrated by the four- or five-year-old Jessika who has her own unique vocabulary of words spelt just has she has heard them; I particularly liked the leaking rainy-hater that her mum had to patch up with chewing-gum. Her baby brother's fection isn't going to get better unless they can move to a homewithout moles. You'll probably need to read the story for yourself to work that one out.
Frances Gapper's `Babylon' tells us of the home make-over from hell and Jo Lidbetter takes us to the Far East for a disturbing story of the aftermath of war.
Sarah Evans, in `Motherhood,' captures so perfectly the competing emotions of aging parents when their adult daughter returns to the nest like some cuckoo determined on her own ways and oblivious to the disruption she is causing.
In the first of the poems to be included, Mark Aram neatly contrasts the pros and cons of `Home' and concludes:
`Home can follow you around like a friendly cat or a heavy rucksack.'
I know this anthology will follow me around until I have devoured all it has to offer; I still have many pleasant hours of reading ahead of me. Why not join me in this wonderful trip through the skilful imaginations of gifted writers and help Shelter in the excellent work they are doing every day writing their own real life stories for homes?
Stories for Homes explores the concept of ‘home’ from inspiring perspectives and I’d challenge you to reach the end without having your prejudices challenged or treasuring the things you enjoy every day a little more than before.
Four stories stood out for me in particular…
1. A HomeWithout Moles by Mandy Berriman is narrated by an endearing child who begins by describing her world whilst colouring pictures and, although I’m not normally a fan of spelled-out pronunciation such as ‘veekles’ and ‘hopsipal’, I have to admit that, in general, it does make the narration seem somewhat more convincing.
There was a point in the middle where I wondered, for a moment, if the domestic situation would head anywhere but, once the characters venture outside and the girl insists ‘it’s ok to do Not-Allowed things when it’s a mergency’, things start to pick up. The plot isn’t racing but my heart was. I won’t spoil it for you, other than to say that, as a mother, I was still shivering an hour later.
2. Half of Everything by Isabel Costello opens during preparations for Hurricane Sandy. The story is beautifully written and the observations precise. It evokes a strong sense of community and I liked the way the characters’ preoccupation with Halloween shows that they believe the hurricane is unlikely to hit.
Snippets of the narrator’s personal hurricane drift into the story naturally as she swings between nostalgia and the anger with which she kicks her ‘for sale’ sign. The quiet conflict, which begins when an unwanted guest turns up, builds towards an omen that left me questioning where their lives would take them after the final full stop.
3. In A Room with a View by Pete Domican the loss of the characters’ home is imminent; their suitcases are packed and the neighbours hugged.
The succinct story draws on most senses to show the sadness of moving from a space, which has always been home, to a temporary room with ‘one little cooker and…twenty-five families’. I wondered if the unreliable narrator is used too conveniently in places but I felt the way the characters are shown to be out of place is especially moving.
4. Conversely, Am I Too Late? by Amanda Saint is about a woman who is making her way back home after some time. I found the imagery to be vivid and could sense just how long ago the character left by her reaction to her changed surroundings.
The plotting is minimalistic and the writing cryptic. The story ends on a final question which made me wonder if the author plans to turn it into a novel as it is like coming to the end of a first chapter. I wanted to turn the page and read on!
I bought this anthology primarily to support Shelter, but didn't expect such a huge range of beautiful stories.
I'm about 2/3 of the way through, but just wanted to encourage others to buy it. The theme works so well, drawing together a mixture of genres and styles to bring us all right down to almost the very bottom of Marlow's Hierarchy of Needs - home. Without naming any favourite stories, the overall result is sobering and uplifting in equal parts: an important reminder that what we all seek most is the very same thing.
In these dyspeptic days after Christmas, here is one feast that won't fatten; a collection of short stories around the theme of 'homes', a chocolate box that allows you to indulge without guilt. Some will make you laugh, others cry, and some will have you rummaging around in the box in the hope that there's another one by that author. Feast away - it's all in aid of Shelter but worth buying just for itself.