Wednesday, February 13, 2013

British stories aren't afraid to get weird

Book: Best English Short Stories II
Authors: various (edited by Giles Gordon and David Hughes)
Published: 1990 (Norton) (collection)
Pages: 332

At work, a person in the break room saw me reading this during lunch and asked, “Are you reading that because you have to or because you want to?”

Dear readers, I am happy to report that for about a year and a half now, I have not read a book that I didn’t want to read. Continuing that trend, these short stories don’t make me question my choices.
It’s a decent array of contemporary-ish short fiction from British people, although none of them slapped me in the face with their Britishness. Which I appreciated. A good story is a good story, especially the beginning one that was about a Jewish man who was in a concentration camp and since he was young and strong the guards made him work cutting the hair of the women and children who came through. It ends on a hopeful echo that’s a handy metaphor for him reclaiming that part of his life. (Spoiler alert: He gives his daughter a haircut that was the opposite of all the other haircuts he had ever given.)

The stories go from your standard lit-fic meditation on an alcoholically crumbling marriage to a ghost story about a dead World War I soldier trying to make friends with the girl who now lives in his house to how a man uses driving lessons to relieve himself of the guilty burden of keeping his dying male lover company in a hospice.

That one (“Baby Clutch”) was another favorite of mine. It was slantingly confessional – the protagonist never said anything direct about his feelings, but he over-described stuff like how he learned to shift in a way that showed how he was trying to distract himself and make himself better for his lover at the same time.  

Also, some English people aren’t afraid to get weird by writing about skeleton whores, Jewish doctors with shifting names, and how a love of geology can prove you innocent of murder. Yeah!
Had to? Hell no. Wanted to? Yes! Bookshelf!  

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