Category Archives: Short Stories

Sins

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Sins
By Mary Telford
Illustrated by Louise Verity
The Lilliput Press – £25.00

In seven segments (‘Envy,’ ‘Pride,’ ‘Avarice,’ ‘Sloth,’ Gluttony,’ ‘Anger,’ and ‘Lust’), this book is a veritable delight to both behold and partake in; partake as in with the turning of every page, one doesn’t quite know what to expect.

Admittedly, this may have a lot to do with the occasionally dark and brood induced illustrations of Louise Verity (colourful and inviting the one minute, angular and intrinsically cartoonesque the next), although Mary Telford’s words are of an equal persuasion so far as the utterly non-ob(li)vious is concerned.

For instance, at the outset of ‘Avarice’ on page 75, Telford writes: The woman longed for wealth above all else. It wasn’t vulgar gold she hankered after or a fortune newly acquired, but long-held riches and respect.

Every Christmas she left her penthouse to visit her impoverished aunts. Their residential hotel was shabby. She slipped on the wheelchair ramp and scraped her Louboutin heel. She reminded herself that the trust fund would be hers once the aunts were dead […].

It’s not until one has reached page 108, that the reader invariably learns of the outcome; but not before having stumbled across a myriad of definitive artwork that (unsurprisingly), does much to trigger the imagination. An imagination, clearly, already attracted to Sins, but which now finds itself served with a certain imagery – some of which, assorted readers will no doubt find appealing while others will feel merely skim the surface of the aforementioned, seven universal themes.

There again: ”The modern fairytale takes many forms, clothing our unconscious with the macabre, the fantastical, the grotesque. In seven elemental stories, anxieties and dark desires are given dramatic force in the renderings of illustrator Loiuse Verity. Drawn form the European folk tale, they are grounded in a tradition from Hieronymus Bosch, the brothers Grimm and Lewis Carroll, to Dali, Dahl and Audrey Niffenegger. Where irreality touches life, dreams begin […]. A controlling husband envies his wife’s pleasures. An abused lover takes her revenge. An avaricious socialite is tormented by the kindness of others. A widow exploited by her grown son gains her freedom.”

To quote Kilgore Trout, and so it goes.

These 240 pages could be construed as being something of a subliminal traipse through the back pages Edgar Allan Poe’s after-thoughts; which, all said and invariably done, is a mighty interesting proposition.

Not to mention a regal and intrinsically refreshing change to such writing as that of the fifty shades of hog-wash variety…

David Marx

One Million Cows

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One Million Cows
By Manuel Rivas
Small Stations Press – £5.69

”Like an irate prophet” (‘The Sons of Luc & Fer’), the one and only Manuel Rivas writes of a great many issues throughout these eighteen, short snappy stories. And in so doing, transports the reader unto many a place of kaleidoscopic (mis)adventure.

Indeed, amid much virtuous and virulent metaphor, One Million Crows finds Galicia’s most renowned, international writer (whose previous books include The Carpenter’s Pencil, In The Wilderness, All Is Silence and perhaps one of my all time favourite books ever written, Books Burn Badly), addressing everything from the mud-flats of childhood to the redolent aftermath of suicide.

But from within this ”bell of memory” (‘Madonna (Christmas Story)’), the one story that essentially strikes home is ‘The Provincial Artist;’ which, by way of well-considered angst and periodic play on capital letters, the author writes: ”’There is in Spain,’ declared the critic Bernabe Candela, ‘nature and metaphysics, passion and biology, reflection and outbursts, and it is well known there is no beauty without rebellion, even if that convulsion is contained by the prudent nets of reason.”

There has to be an abundance of gravitas in the line: ”there is no beauty without rebellion,” which, if you really think about it, transports the rebellious etiquette of someone like Che Guevara to within striking distance a whole new tenet of thinking. Not to mention understanding; or ”the prudent nets of reason,” from where Rivas continues: ”Espina may be a wonderful symbiosis, that of the monster awaiting the end of the century.’ He read this article in the old slaughterhouse while peeling open a tin of mussels. His first reaction of complacent vanity was followed by a sense of disquiet and unease. Up until then, hardly anybody had paid him any attention.”

The above is so compact and colourful, so dense and at times, disparaging; that I found myself increasingly caught up or should I say, intrinsically lost within the actual essence of the writing itself, as opposed to that of the story being told.

Like so much of his work, the stories Manuel Rivas tells, could, for many, be construed as something of an added bonus. It’s the actual writing that’s so alluring. So attractive.

David Marx

Berlin Tales

berlin tales

Berlin Tales – Stories translated by Lyn Marven
Edited by Helen Constantine
Oxford University Press – £9.99

These seventeen stories traverse the effervescent city of Berlin, both past and present, in such a beguiling way – that one’s compelled to not only read more, but investigate the city for real.

By way of miniaturist story telling, most sides of the German capital – from the decadence and the modernity of the Weimar Republic right through to the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 – are marvellously captured and juxtaposed throughout Berlin Tales.

While many of the stories have been translated for the first time, almost all come across as having lost none of their initial panache, individuality nor wit. The nigh photographic, rapid and random snapshot travelogue that is ‘My Berlin’ (by Emine Sevgi Ozdamar) being a perfect example.

It’s so concise, it’s almost poetic: ”At Zoo station I waved to all the buses going past. I was in freedom and was pleased about the rain. I thought, Berlin has waited for me for nine years. It was as if back then when I returned to Istanbul, Berlin had frozen like a photo, to wait for me – with the long, tall trees, with the Gedachniskirche, with the double-decker buses, with the corner pubs. Berlin Kindl beer, the crosses on the beer mats. Walls. Checkpoint Charlie. U-Bahn. S-Bahn. Cinema on Steinplatz. Abshied von gestern (Yesterday Girl). Alexander Kluge. Bockworst sausages. The Brecht theatre Berlin Ensemble. Arturo Ui. Canals. The Peacock Island. Tramps in the stations. Pea soup. Lonely women in Cafe Kranzler. Black Forest gateau. Workers from different countries. Spaghetti. Greeks. Cumin-Turks. Cafe Kase. Telephone dances. Bullet holes in house walls. Cobblestones. Curried sausage. White bodies waiting for the sun at Lake Wannsee. Police dogs. East German police searchlights. Dead train tracks, grass growing between them. House notices: ‘In the interests of all residents children are forbidden to play games.’ Stations left behind in East Berlin which the West underground trains pass through without stopping. A solitary East-policeman on the platform. Solinka soup. Stuyvesand cigarettes. Rothandle cigarettes. Signs:’Achtung Sie verlassen den Amerikanischem Sektor / Warning you are leaving the American sector.’ Jewish cemetery in East Berlin. Ducks on Lake Wannsee. A bar with music from the 1940s, old women dancing with women. Broilers.”

This one story alone is a more than jubilant, topsy-turvy traipse through everything that Berlin once was (and to a certain degree, still is). It’s colourful, majestic and well-paced, not to mention almost serene in its observation; which, along with such other short stories as ‘Seen from the Window’ by Siegried Kracauer (”They are not compositions like Pariser Platz or La Concorde which owe their existence to a single architectural conception, rather they are creations of chance […]”) and ‘Gina Regina’ by Ulrike Draesner (”an intermezzo of sugar bun and sex”), are a delight to both read and truly behold.

And like the city itself, investigate further.

David Marx

The Opposite Of Loneliness

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The Opposite Of Loneliness
By Marina Keegan
Simon & Schuster – £12.99

There’s absolutely no denying the fact that the American authoress Marina Keegan could really write; and to a certain degree, write with a pronounced precision that was both inventive and idiosyncratic. But I cannot help but wonder that had she not died in a car crash at the mere tender age of just twenty-three, would she have made as equally as big a noise?

Death after all, works wonders for one’s career – regardless of age or where they’re actually at. Perhaps regardless of most things. But without wanting to come on like a cynical tactician of no particular critical abode, The Opposite Of Loneliness really isn’t all it’s made out to be. Keegan may well have left behind a so-called ”rich, expansive trove of prose that, like her title essay, captures the hope, uncertainty and possibility of her generation,” but personally, I found most of the writing a little too diaphanous and dare I say it, class-centric and money-up for its own good.

In all honesty, I came to this book with an open mind.

I wanted to be touched, but unceremoniously completed it with a feeling of having been duped. There’s far too much talk of Yale, sickly, sticky myopic text messaging and all to considered sex. So much so, that I just couldn’t warm to the writing – no matter how hard I tried or wanted to.

In the fourth short story of the fiction section, ‘The Ingenue’ for instance, Keegan writes: Too tired and confused the night before, Danny and I had had sex that morning – emerging last into the kitchen, secretly superior. I ordered another to-go lobster on the way to the theatre and it came with its claws flopping over the sides of a fast food container, which I liked […]. During intermission I went outside to sit in the car because I didn’t feel like talking to the lobby and its circles. Part of me probably knew it was coming because as soon as I shut the door, I started crying. I let my head hang forward and press against the steering wheel but after a few sobs I sat up and stopped. I texted five or six friends from the city […]. My sister and my friend Tara texted me back and I responded to both immediately […]. ”It’s so fun,” he’d say. ”there’s this group of local alcoholics who are too freaking funny. But they have these bands that come and everyone just sort of goes with it, you know? None of that too-cool bullshit.” ”Yeah,” I’d say, in bed with my salad. ”It sounds amazing, you’ll have to take me when I come up in August.” ”For sure,” he’d reply. I can’t wait.” We got dinner together between shows and had sex again on these inland dunes…”

”Emerging last into the kitchen, secretly superior” following sex? ”Another to-go lobster?” ”It’s so fun?” It’s so annoying more like.

Really, who fucking cares?
And who on earth sits in bed eating a salad?

Had Marina Keegan matured and experienced some of life’s realistic knocks, I dare say there’d have been more resonance, more truth and more grit in her story telling. As is, there’s no denying she could write, but it’s what she wrote, that I still find particularly irksome and displeasing.

Spoilt brat writing for a (predominantly American) spoilt brat readership.

David Marx

Paris Metro Tales

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Paris Metro Tales
Stories Translated by Helen Constantine
Oxford University Press – £9.99

For anyone who’s ever been to France’s capital city, Paris Metro Tales will ensure the inspired memories will come hurtling back at a most ferocious pace. It’s a joy to read, as not only does it open up the flood-gates of one’s imagination with regards this most beautiful of cities, quite possibly the most beautiful in the world, it introduces the reader to an array of writers.

Many of whom most defintely warrant further investigation.

Writers such as Jacques Reda and Julien Green for instance – whose two stories ‘The Gard du Nord’ and ‘Saint-Julien-Le-Pauvre’ immediately set the tone of this book by being its initial two – wax lyrical with such genuine ease and panache, I found myself wanting to read more.

Of the third busiest railway station in the world, Reda writes: ”The interior has been painted in two contrasting tones – a very dark greeny-blue, the colour of roquefort, and a salmon pink – yet they unite in joyful harmony, like a small polyphony of trumpets in a tapestry of greyhounds and medieval headdresses,” while of Saint-Julien-Le-Pauvre’s ”sumptuous past,” Green bequeaths the following: ”In this place, perhaps, Dante knelt, between these green walls that look as though an ocean has left behind trails of seaweed. In this place the visionary spoke to the Unseen Presence and later recalled a small street in Paris where he rested awhile in mediatation on his journey to the utmost depths of the inner world.”

And while Marie Desplechin’s ‘Summer Rain’ is riddled with an assortrment of cracking one liners (‘Too much companionship, not enough passion,’ ‘The ghost of happiness imploded in my head,’ ‘Crowds cloged the pavements. Thousands of heads floated by like little blind corks,’ ‘It resonates like the dull echo of pain,’ ‘Love is a deserted place, an abandoned room, nothing gained, nothing lost’), it’s an author whose work I’ve read in the past, that’s still my favourite short story herein.

I wouldn’t have thought Emile Zola needs any introduction, although I have to confess to not being familiar with a particularly exquisite short story, simply entitled ‘Snow.’ As delicate and refined as it is, it has continued to retain a certain poetic tonality; the sort of which is so sorely lacking amid an array lot of current (loudly shouted-about) literature:

”I have just crossed the Luxembourg gardens, without recognizing either the trees or borders. A far cry from the shimmering golds and greens in the red-and-yellow brightness of the setting sun. It was like being in a cemetery. The flower-beds resembled colossal marble tombs, with here and there shrubs for black crosses.

The staggered rows of chestnut trees are enormous chandeliers of spun glass. The work is exquisite; each little branch is decorated with fine crystals; delicate embroideries cover the brown bark. You dare not touch these fragile glass ornaments in case you break them.”

Each of the twenty-two short stories, which is accompanied by a relative, black and white photograph, is written in a totally different way: perhaps more subtlety here, and a lot less nuance there, more happy-go-lucky here, while a lot less density there. Which in all, accounts for just one of the (many) reasons why Paris Metro Tales is as good, while at times invigorating, and truly provocative as it is.

David Marx

Barcelona – Stories Behind The City

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Barcelona – Stories Behind The City
By Jeremy Holland
Summertime Publishing – £9.99

The author of Barcelona – Stories Behind The City, Jeremy Holland, was born in Los Angeles, which isn’t in the least surprising, as the writing herein is more Americana than a cryptic combination of such bands as Los Lobos and Bon Jovi. Now some might consider this a good thing, while others not so good. Personally, it’s American spelling that irks me beyond negotiation. It always seems wrong somehow. While certain terminology such as the horrendously over-used and horribly misused word, ‘awesome,’ makes my skin crawl to the point of literally want to vomit…

The only reason I mention the above within the context of this book review, is that one doesn’t normally equate a menagerie of Americanisms within the parameters of Barcelona literature. And while this may come across as pedantically besides the point, it does nevertheless influence (much of) the reading. Once this is fully realised/overcome/dealt with, certain segments of Barcelona – Stories Behind The City makes for entertaining reading.

To be sure, there’s a fistful of thought provoking one-liners scattered throughout the book that are particularly pleasing, of which the following three are more than deft examples: ”All of these guys have the gift of the gab and zero conscience” (‘CSI Barcelona’); ”Locals sit on shaded benches in the square across the street, legs crossed, reading newspapers, as a flock of escaped parakeets chirp in a powder blue sky” (‘The Sound of Barcelona’); ”Alex had been raised in a family of mathematicians, happiness and sadness weren’t quanifiable, so they didn’t exist. Same went for God or any other super natural being” (‘Barcelona Gothic’).

While my favourite short story ‘Monica & Juan’ – a depiction of family life, on the edge, on the nickel (now there’s an Americanism not oft used) in economically drained Spain – it’s ‘Running the Gauntlet’ that might in and of itself, reside as this book’s most powerful: ”As they crossed the slippery pavement of Las Ramblas, prostitutes manifested out of nothingness. They whistled. ”Hey, Papi,” they shouted. ”I suck dick.” Their toned muscles and prison hardened expressions in the glare of ornate street lamps, provoked more dread and loathing in the testicles than sexual desire.”

As stated on the back cover: ”Dubbed, ‘The Great Enchantress,’ by art critic Robert Hughes, Barcelona was seducing visitors long before the city’s rise to a tourist hotspot following the Olympic Games in 1992. Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell all once called the Catalan capital ”home,” while countless others have been charmed by the city’s character and splendour.

While Jeremy Holland’s literary offering may not (obviously) stand alongside that of Hemingway and Orwell’s, it’s still a worthy contribution to that of Barcelona’s ever growing magic and mystique.

David Marx

Fates Worse Than Death

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Fates Worse Than Death
By Kurt Vonnegut
Vinage – £8.99

Fates Worse Than Death is a collection of essays, speeches and other previously unpublished works by one of America’s finest and most inventive of writers, Kurt Vonnegut. Otherwise known as An Autobiographical Collage of the 1980s, this book is essentially grounded in the fact that it has no overall structure – a facet which some may find a little bizarre. Although readers already conditioned and used to the writer’s work, will undoubtadly have already embraced it long ago, along with much of the rest of his catalogue.

That the book is made up of reproduced public speeches, throws yet another slant on how it ought to be both perceived and approached. Prime reason being, many found Vonnegut’s public speaking to be a lot more entertaining overall, than his writing; but of course, this is down to subjective opinion – as are the following (illuminating) extracts taken from various chapters throughout the book:

””James Jones, author of From Here to Eternity, and a rifleman in peacetime and then in war, told me that he could not consider Hemingway a fellow soldier, since he had never submitted to training and discipline. In the Spanish Civil War and then in World War II, Hemingway took no orders and gave no orders. He came and went wherever and whenever he pleased. He actually hunted German submarines for a while in the Caribbean – in his own boat and of his own accord” (chapter five).

”The firebombing of Dresden was an emotional event without a trace of military importance. The Germans purposely kept the city free of major war industries and arsenals and troop concentrations so that it might be a safe haven for the wounded and refugees. There was no air-raid shelters to speak of and few anti-aircraft guns. It was a famous world art treasure, like Paris or Vienna or Prague, and about as sinister as a wedding cake. I will say again what I have often said in print and in speeches, that not one Allied soldier was able to advance as much as an inch because of the firebombing of Dresden. Not one prisoner of the Nazis got out of prison a micro-second earlier. Only one person on earth clearly benefited, and I am that person. I got about five dollars for each corpse, counting my fee tonight” (chapter ten).

”Manhattan is a geological phenomenon. An enormous fraction of the planet’s wealth was concentrated on a little island of solid granite. This caused crystals to sprout in such profusion that the island when viewed from the air now resembles a quartz porcupine” (chapter thirteen).

As it states on the back back cover, Fates Worse Than Death is ”a collage of his own life story, snipped up and struck down alongside his views on everything from suicidal depression to the future of the planet and Andrew Lloyd Webber.”

A literary see-saw betwixt being razor-sharp the one minute and darker than dark the next – this book goes some way in clarfying that not only did Vonnegut have a terrific mind, but that he confronted (predominantly Western) complacency head-on.

This alone makes the book, along with most of his writings, more commendable and certainly more readable than most.

David Marx