This is the review I wrote for WROTE Podcast. A fascinating book. Not one of my favourites, but no denying the skill of the writer and their powers of observation. A great collection of vignettes.
I was gifted a copy of this ARC in return for an honest and fair review.
I was a little hesitant about reading this book at first. The cover doesn’t invite one in, with a barrage of repeated words that made my eyes go funny. It had a bit of a “try hard” feel about it, and the title seemed to suggest something frivolous, a trifling matter to pass the time if one had nothing else to do. It was an inauspicious start, and a shame because the stories themselves are startling, poignant, sometimes desperately sad, but always entertaining and well-written.
A frivolous read, this certainly is not. It is a truly diverse collection of vignettes than actual stories; snapshots of people’s lives and experiences, each one very different from the last. The author uses dialogue, prose, sections as if taken from official reports, and weaves all those things in to a highly readable package with some intriguing characters.
These stories feel more personal than ones written with fictional characters. These tales read like people who have really existed, people from the author’s past, or echoes of people he has encountered, however briefly. There are exquisite observations of everyday life, perfectly preserved. I can imagine the author sitting in a diner with his notepad, quietly taking in all the tiny dramas around him, then weaving them with words drawn from his imagination. It is a true piece of literary work, crafted with skill and a keen eye.
Standouts for me are the first story, Goodbye, Willow Grove, where two people have very different memories of the same, sun-drenched day. The Tire Swing, where an elderly man reminisces over his life. It is written from a second person aspect, which isn’t for everyone, but there was a poetic rhythm about it that I loved. Finally, Thursday Night at Niko’s Italian Restaurant, which sounds like a Billy Joel song and is a slice of life from the underbelly of old-school Americana.
There’s a theme of savagery running through a lot of the stories, a cynicism as well as rose-tinted sentimentality. Just like any good conversation, there is something for everyone. The book isn’t always a comfortable read. I didn’t warm to some of the stories, but that’s like any collection, as well as being human. And everyone in this book is achingly human; flawed, honourable, selfish, angry, loving. This is definitely a short story collection to check out if you want human stories to make you think.