Mar. 16th, 2011

sheenaghpugh: (Default)
This is a collection of short stories (pub. Salt 2010) and ever since Joyce, the one thing we've known about a short story is that it should have an epiphany: ie, at some point something should become clear, either to us or to the protagonist, that wasn't clear before, and that changes everything. One of the most interesting things about these stories is the way Rickards sometimes subverts the epiphany, by subtly implying that though the protagonist has indeed found out something new about himself or the world, this new-found knowledge is not in fact going to change anything; things will go on much as they did before. In the title story, the materialistic Dominic finds himself having fun in a way totally independent of the money and social cachet on which he generally depends for enjoyment, but you could lay bets that he will not, next morning, sell all he has and give the money to the poor. In "Mango", a failing marriage, seen through a child's eyes, gets a sudden boost of happiness and all seems well at the end, but an adult reader can easily deduce that the respite is temporary and does not address the real problems in the relationship. And in "The Last of Her", Jo, having been welcomed at a vulnerable time into the home of what seems a kind couple, has to reassess them in the light of their conduct to someone else, but again you could bet she is not going to walk virtuously out on the comfort she needs.

Sometimes Rickards does use the epiphany in a more traditional way; in "Odissi Dancing" it does feel as if a woman's self-image has been permanently altered, and in "Ultimate Satisfaction Everyday", Greg, who's always thought of himself as a loser, finds out not so much that he is or isn't, more that nobody has the right to make such a judgement about what anybody's life is "worth". In "Life Pirates" there are practically two stories running in tandem, the one most people see, involving a drunken tramp in a park, and the quite different one seen by the narrator, who knows him.

There are a few stories that don't work for me, notably "Moon" which I don't see the point of and "Moleman" in which the tempting metaphor in a real situation has completely taken over the story to the point where it reads like an exercise. But as a collection, this is massively more worth reading than some considerably more hyped ones I've read lately. Where these stories end happily or at least in temporary contentment, it is often because of some apparently trivial thing: the taste of a mango, the gift of some dog biscuits, the budding of an apparently dead tree, can be enough to turn a situation, a mood, even a way of seeing the world.

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sheenaghpugh

December 2011

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