Author, Book review, Fiction, Nik Perring, Publisher, Roast Books, short stories

‘Not So Perfect’ by Nik Perring

NotSoPerfect

 Fiction – paperback; Roast Books; 140 pages; 2010. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Reviewing a short story collection is always problematic. Do you take a story by story approach, or a general overview? In this instance, I’ve opted for the latter.

Nik Perring’s Not So Perfect is a sweet collection of 22 stories, some of which are no more than a page long. And given the cute size of this book, which is 130mm x 130mm, that’s very short indeed. It can be easily read, cover to cover, in less than an hour, though I suppose you could drag it out, ration yourself to one story a day, and make it last three weeks. But if you are anything like me, reading one isn’t quite enough and before you know it you’ve greedily gobbled up the whole book in one short sitting.

Most of the stories are about human relationships and the not-so-perfect lives people lead. All of them have surprising little twists or moments that make you go a-ha! And many are just downright kooky, but a lot of fun all the same.

I was particularly taken by the first story, Kiss (just four pages long), in which an older man seemingly takes his much younger wife for granted. But then he dies and weeks after the funeral his widow notices that the flowerbed in the garden looks different. Her late husband had planted the flowers so that when they bloomed they would spell out a message. But to find out the message you will have to read the story for yourself! Let’s just say it’s a bittersweet tear-inducing one.

Similarly, I quite liked My Heart’s in a Box (four pages and two lines long) in which a man allows the woman he loves to cut his heart out and keep it in a box. Okay, so it’s sort of preposterous, because how on earth would the man survive an operation of that nature, especially as it was conducted on the kitchen table, but in this story you have to suspend belief. It’s actually a poignant little fable which explores how the love between two people grows and changes with time. Initially, the woman keeps the heart on display in the kitchen, later it is put on the mantel piece, before it is moved to the bathroom, then the hall and then the bedroom. Finally it’s put in the garage “on the windowsill, with the slug pellets and matches, with the almost full bottle of turps and a dusty bottle of champagne we won somewhere”.

Sadly, the quality of the stories is slightly inconsistent and there are some, including Shark Boy, which are just plain odd. But overall this is a fun, occasionally subversive, collection.

Anthony Caleshu, Author, Book review, Fiction, literary fiction, Publisher, Roast Books, Setting, USA

‘Churchtown: The Tale of Suzy Delou and Faye Fiddle’ by Anthony Caleshu

Churchtown

Fiction – paperback; Roast Books; 120 pages; 2008. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Where do I start with this one? Perhaps I should begin with a caveat. Life was so busy last week that my reading time was seriously curtailed. And knowing in advance that I’d probably only be able to snatch the odd few minutes here and there, I chose Churchtown: The Tale of Suzy Delou and Faye Fiddle solely on the basis that it was small enough to fit in my handbag. Sadly, I would have been better off reading one of those horrible free news sheets on my tube journeys instead of this book. And if you’ve ever read the Metro or the London Evening Standard you’ll know what a back-handed compliment that is.

This novella tells the bizarre story of two women at loggerheads with each other: Suzy Delou is the local whore and Faye Fiddle her uptight neighbour. The pair live on an island that was once very religious, but has since been “converted” into a small society of drinking, gambling, sex-obsessed men. Suzy makes a habit of sleeping with as many of them as she can, while Faye tuts at her from a distance. When Faye falls in love with a visiting sailor, much younger than herself, things come to a head, because Suzy, with an insatiable appetite for men, wants him, too…

The second part of the novella explains the backstory of the two women and how their rivalry and differences came into play. It involves the disputed parentage of a baby boy: is he Suzy’s by immaculate conception, or is he the result of Faye’s one night stand with a visiting country and western star?

Yes, if you think it sounds odd, let me reassure you that it is very odd indeed. So odd, that I could not quite make head nor tail of it. Should I be repulsed, or should I find it incredibly funny? After a couple of days thinking about it, I’m still not sure…

And yet the writing is crisp and clear, so there’s no problem with the prose style, and the characterisation, which is rich and vivid, is good too. But somehow the gross, sordid world presented here feels too seedy, repulsive and misogynistic for my liking. The Gothic, Deep South influence, with its religious overtones, only serves to make me even less enamoured of the whole thing.

Author, Book review, Effie Gray, England, Fiction, literary fiction, Publisher, Roast Books, Setting

‘Selling Light’ by Effie Gray

SellingLight

Fiction – paperback; Roast Books; 112 pages; 2008. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Effie Gray’s Selling Light is part of a new series of novellas published by London-based indie publishing house Roast Books. The books are billed as “great little reads” that can be easily consumed within “a long lunch hour or a single train journey”.

This is an attractive concept, especially for those bibliophiles who don’t want to lug around heavy paperbacks but need to be accompanied by a book at all times. Although not quite compact enough to fit in your back pocket, they’re light enough to carry in a bag — that’s if you’re brave enough to risk having them battered and scuffed, because these are handsome-looking volumes that look almost too good to read.

In much the same way as Persephone Books publishes all its books in attractive dovegrey covers with pretty endpapers, Roast Books has opted for highly textured cream covers with illustrations by Kenneth Andersson. They look very tasty indeed.

RoastBooks

And the content is equally attractive if Selling Light is anything to go by. This is a gorgeous little tale about two loners who find themselves forging a fragile, hesitant friendship by the coast: Briege, is a young university student studying crabs, and George is an older man still grieving over the death of his wife eight years earlier. Both are living in caravans when Briege invites George on a crab-hunting expedition — and it is here that you get the sense that a little romance could develop if only the both of them were trusting enough to take it a step further.

But before they can get their acts together, their peace is shattered by the arrival of Peter Cooper, a young upstart, who throws a party in the nearby lighthouse and begins making plans to turn it into a “small deluxe guesthouse which he can manage from the city”. Meanwhile his “girlfriend” Amanda, who has a “parasitic attachment to others” realises that she “needs a new host” and begins casting around for one…

It’s a fascinating and beautifully told tale, one that lives up to Roast Books’ promise of delivering quality short works of fiction that are “easily digestible, instantly gratifying and, of course, extremely tasty little reads”. I’m very much looking forward to reading the others in the series.