A Reader Friend; in Need, in Deed.

Brian George Reviews ‘Curtains’ A Short Story.

The barns( If you want to read the story itself first sign up to follow and I’ll email it to you)

This restorative generous response to a short story illustrates what readers do for writers. Times have been hard recently and this story was a way to ‘write the wrongs’ like taking a soap scrub to the mind. That any reader found literary survival, more, literary merit in this hose down was beyond redemptive. You never know. It may be an augury that this writer will revive.

Review of Short Story ‘Curtains’ by Brian George ( March 2016)

I have just finished reading “Curtains,” a sad and wonderful piece, in which the author’s stoic reserve portions out all of the twists and turns of the drama, transforming what should be a simple landlord/tenant conflict into something far more primal and lifting the reader to a plane of both empathy and detachment. This stoic reserve exists as a kind of free-floating presence. At one moment it appears as an attribute of the semi-autobiographical protagonist in the story, at another, as a quality of light, and at another, as an encircling awareness of the inevitability of loss. The protagonist of the story, Battered, lives with her husband in one part of a remodeled farm and former music center. She is old, although much younger than her husband, who is ancient, with one foot in this world and the other in the next. If they live in a state of steadily diminishing expectations, this does not relieve them of the need for finding a paying tenant. The antagonist of the story, a supposed New Age therapist and writer, called Curtains, is not quite what she seems. The rhythm of the piece is fascinating, in all of its permutations. Drowsy reminiscence will suddenly give way to crackling confrontation..

At the beginning, the story reads like a haunted pastoral, with a sense of many things left unsaid. The music of the prose is hypnotic, like waves lapping on a darkening shore, with the rumble of thunder in the background. All looks to be serene, but we sense that some form of tragedy will be not long in arriving. To some, the events that follow might better be described as “tragicomedy.” This would be true as far as it goes, yet  each event in the story can be read in terms of what is there and what is not there, as an object that is simultaneously its own shadow. As the tenant moves in, we take note of the many warning signs not heeded, and even the most commonplace objects and exchanges take on an ominous cast. The first small conflicts with the tenant are like the first few raindrops of a storm, the first thin flashes of lightning. Then, when the full extent of the conflict emerges into view, the effect is hyper-real, with details taking on a painful immediacy, as in the aura that precedes an epileptic seizure, with ever stronger flashes of light illuminating a dilemma that is at once both horrifying and absurd.

The story also reads as an editorial comment on the beloved New Age cliché that WE CREATE OUR OWN REALITY. While magic may be real, and a positive attitude can have some sort of a measurable effect, there are also hard, external limits to our actions, beyond which even the most determined may not push. I do not feel that this story is “frivolous” at all, as the author, in an email, argued. If anything, “Curtains” reads like a rural English version of “The Old Man and the Sea.” There is a mournful poetry as well as a mordant humor to the author’s descriptions that transforms the apparently mundane details of events. The modest surface both conceals and reveals the tragic undertow. There is a visceral sense of the scale of the dreams that have been frustrated. There are no grand gestures; there is only matter-of-fact resolve.

Lies are resolutely uncovered and confronted. Much effort is required to remove the worm from the garden. It is something of a mystery, perhaps, that it should have been so difficult to spot a prostitute who had been delivered to the renovated cowshed by her pimp. After so much disillusionment, both personal and cultural, Battered should have been well positioned to spot such a deception. Then again, the most obvious things are often the last ones to be noticed. We remember how as children we put our full trust in the world. Such trust dies hard. However idiotic our judgments, this desire points to a truth which should not be second-guessed. The conflict with the New Age Angelic Hooker Therapist ends with no more and no less than the reestablishment of the normal. If the Genius Loci do not cooperate in the showering of any obvious form of wealth, they are nonetheless relieved. Having struggled with the temptation of bitterness, having exited beyond the noise that had obscured the inner music of the landscape, Battered’s quiet courage returns her to the home that was always hers.

 

Milly grave

Review of Wood,Talc and Mr J by Chris Rose.

Wood,Talc, and MrJ by Chris Rose.

‘You weren’t supposed to be clever where I came from…’

Readers who are used to Walkers Crisps in portioned packets will find opening this unfamiliar shrink wrapped alternative challenging. I certainly did. The first taste is of something indefinable; salty and lime flavoured, with more than a hint of sea, of vinegar, of jellied eels and certainly bracing. This book takes a willingness to be persuaded, but becomes increasingly addictive, as you bite into separate scenes, and ride a great many buses in pursuit of Sheffield United, the possibility of ‘gear’ or a good dust up with Skin heads or Rockers, and those who fail to appreciate the finer distinctions in Motown and Soul. This is not a world I know anything about, yet something in the self-effacing and evocative staccato began to mesmerize. It got better and better, once the idiom lodged, and more compelling.

I am not sure I can analyse why, or even that I garnered half of what its sharp language referred to, for it is a new language, and describes a world as unfamiliar as Bangladesh, although it only asks me to travel as far as Sheffield, Ilkley, Barnsley, Skegness and environs. Names and words encircle. Well that’s not all: it asks me to take on trust Sheffield in the seventies, through the eyes ears and nostrils of Phillip, its narrator and interpreter of the author’s sardonic, nostalgic and dismissive memory. Into Phillip he pours his unstated affection for his home but like a shirt tail that should not escape but does. If a reader is tempted to sympathy, it quickly disappears.

I feel I begin to get a little closer to its hooking summons to travel with it: Phillip is disarmingly devil-may-care on the surface. He refuses any self indulgence; his affectionate love of Grom (his grandmother-Edith) is epitomized by his refusal not only to take the same bus with her to work, (in Hell’s Satanic Mill) but a different bus route entirely. Her habit of torturing him by eating pungent and unsavoury food with gusto (and without teeth) and in public is politely avoided without resentment on either side.

This family understands one another. They are diffident, tolerant, undemonstrative, and loyal, and the influence of Grom permeates, even when she is absent. His father’s moral rectitude about the obligations of work and discipline, however unrewarded (except in affording legitimacy to weekends letting rip) stem from Grom, almost everything retains integrity, below the surface of seeming chaos. Phillip is quintessentially English in his refusal to disclose more than is decent about his feelings, except about music and song titles for these are safe pegs on which to define himself. They were unfamiliar to me but that was unimportant in this rollicking ride through period, seaside arcades, scooter racing, police check points, imminent catastrophe dared to come out by jeering at it, and his friendship with Jed,JustAbout, Paul, Pete, Mick and Uncle James. His names are minimalist,(his girl friends loved and moving past and on) but as expressive of the time as they are of the character of Phillip, who takes all as it comes (and goes). As must the reader, for this is a ride through affectionate memory of those loved and lost and a world being unwrapped from its confines in maturity; from Batty with her purple hair and his brother Sam’s gradual growth, closely observed.

There is little of ‘story’ in any external sense unless a rite of passage from adolescent to adulthood is story, and for most of us writers until it is told, other stories cannot get top billing or full attention. But it is the poetic vernacular that springs the surprises; they allow dandelions to bloom between the paving stones, tossed over the shoulder prolifically and without stopping; those ‘wagged schooldays’, ‘Madame Shake ‘n’Vac’, ‘heart-splintering honesty’ and ‘prematurely ripened humbug’. This is an extraordinarily original writer seemingly with an endless ability to dislocate the image until the cartilage gleams in the joints of small agonies. Because Phillip pities himself not at all, you feel for him and want to steady him with a hand before he trips on his shoelaces or cuts his feet. Poor Phillip. He will remain with you long after the book is closed. Open it and stay with it, for it is rich, and new. Then read it a second time.