All These Little Worlds: A Fiction Desk Anthology II ed. Rob Redman

I freely admit that I bought a kindle version of All These Little Worlds–an collection of short stories from The Fiction Desk–primarily for the promised short story from Charles Lambert. I’ve throughly enjoyed two novels from this author: Little Monsters and Any Human Face, and considered it worth the purchase of the collection for his short story alone. But I had a second motive afoot….Something exciting and rather daunting is happening in the world of publishing. It’s a paradigm shift of seismic proportions, and people are taking charge of their own writing careers through blogs and e-publishing. Conan Kennedy’s book: The Colour of Her Eyes–a superior crime novel in my opinion–and one that certainly surpasses many crime novels that went through regular channels of committee selection and publicity campaigns etc–is a prime example of an author acting on his own initiative and getting his book out there.

While publishing giants merge together, we’ve also seen a number of fascinating small presses spring to life: Pushkin Press, Archipelago Books, Dalkey Press, Europa Editions, Melville House, Oneworld Classics, Hesperus Press (I’m sure I forgot some names), and for those of us who don’t care for the bestseller lists, these small presses give an alternative. And that brings me to my second reason for buying All These Little Worlds–because it’s an effort by an independent voice. I’ll also admit to a sense of curiosity; I read a lot of short story collections, and some of the big names always get a showing. What about those who are not so famous?

All These Little Worlds includes nine stories, and as editor Rob Redman states in the introduction, while “it’s sometimes tempting to publish a themed volume,” it’s also a limiting choice. Whatever the selection process was, the result is superior, and if there is a dominant undercurrent in this volume, it’s arguably an underlying subversivenes that challenges our notions of traditional relationships

So here’s the story rundown:

Jaggers and Crown by James Benmore is the story of a comic team who rather like an an old married couple battled themselves and their demons through the course of several decades. It’s 2011 and Kevin Crown recalls his turbulent relationship with Sonny Jaggers. They first teamed together in the early fifties, and enjoyed a successful radio career before making the leap to television. A few years later, with Sonny’s drinking increasingly out-of-control, there’s a lucrative contract from ITV, and while Kevin is ambitious and conscientious, Sonny’s binges are taking a toll on the team. On the Fiction Desk blog , Benmore  explains that the story grew from his interest in British comedy programmes, and that if Jaggers is based on anyone, then that person would be Kenneth Williams. For this reader, the references to the scenes in which Jaggers and Crown share a bed is reminiscent of Morecambe and Wise, a remarkable duo who also shared a bed (you can find the skits on youtube). The story explores the turbulence behind the comedy and also shows how when one member of a comedy duo dies the survivor dies by default too.

Jennifer Moore’s Swimming with the Fishes is an odd but delightful tale of a couple of children whose sibling rivalry fixates on a fish tank. You’re not going to get any more info than that as I don’t want to spoil the story for those who’ve yet to read it. I don’t usually care for stories told by child narrators so I was skeptical at first, but the story is so perfectly written that I was never quite sure exactly what was ‘real’ and what was the child narrator’s imagination.

The third story is Charles Lambert’s Pretty Vacant–a title certainly inspired by one of my favourite bands–the Sex Pistols. It’s set in the 70s and here’s how it begins:

Three days before my fifteen birthday my father kisses me on the lips, pinches my left cheek until it hurts, says he’ll always love me and flies off to Madagascar with his new girlfriend, Mia. I’ve seen her once or twice in the back of his car or waiting outside his secretary’s office with a magazine, Bella or Chi, chewing the inside of her mouth, and I’ve wondered who she is. Someone who needs a job and is scared she might not get it, I thought at first, so I was half right; living with my father is a sort of job. My mother’s pretended not to notice . She’s getting ready to move into our summer house near Alghero.

The narrator, Francesca, is shipped off to a boarding school in England with the weak excuse that she needs to “perfect” her English. She’s angry and out-of-place, and so perhaps it’s not surprising that she hooks up with an admirer of the Red Brigades, Gary, a young man who hangs out in a nearby squat. Just as in Little Monsters, Lambert explores the adolescent world in which adults rarely venture, here we see the fallout of Francesca’s summer in exile.

Room 307 is from novelist Mischa Hiller. It’s the story of Callum, a married traveling salesman who runs into temptation. I loved this story for its moral complexities and the exploration of one event that will have lifetime consequences. Callum finds himself in a situation in which the choice he makes doesn’t bring quite the result he expects. Here’s Callum sitting in the hotel restaurant, lonely and bored as he waits for his unexciting meal to arrive:

He sipped at his half pint of lager and studied the generic artwork on the walls. he had stayed in many of this chain’s hotels and they all looked the same. same faux-traditional pub decor in the restaurant, same anodyne and inoffensive prints on the walls, same bored staff in white and black, same tiny en-suite bathrooms with mouldy grouting round the shower end of the bath. They didn’t even have a newspaper at reception he could hide behind, and he had left his petrol-station thriller in his room.

But Callum’s evening is about to change for the better… or so it seems….

Dress Code by Halimah Marcus, a wonderful story about a teacher who goes off the rails big-time, tied in very well to the recent reading of You Deserve Nothing. As the title suggests, this is a story that involves the element of school uniforms, and the story evolves around Episcopal Academy’s Casual Fridays“–the one day of the week when students are allowed to wear something other than their uniforms.  To English teacher, Linus, he “knew there’d be problems as soon as he read the letter [from admin], which included a list of forbidden garments and areas of flesh.” What happens to poor Linus is funny in a strange sort of way because as readers we can see it coming as we witness Linus stepping right into a PR/PC nightmare. Author Halimah Marcus captures perfectly the sense that teachers sometimes have that the best way to reach students is through honesty and utter equality, but that idea is a philosophical mirage as there are two sets of standards in the power-dynamic for students and teachers and Linus finds that out the hard way.

The Romantic by Colin Corrigan is the rather sad story of an Irish  one-armed poet who meets a lonely American woman in a pub. It’s a painful reality check evening in more ways than one.

In After all the Fun We Had by Ryan Shoemaker, a desperate school administrator, terrified by dwindling attendance figures goes all out to lure pupils back to the classroom. His methods become increasingly outrageous, and all this bribery devolves to its natural and comic conclusion.

In Glenda by Alan Jury, Charlie a young man whose wife has left him finds himself embroiled in a complicated relationship with his mother-in-law. Meanwhile his wife, Kathy is living with an “over-groomed sales director in Bristol.”

Glenda had first come to the house on the Saturday after Kathy had left him, and that same night the two of them had gotten riotously drunk together for the first time.

There’s another child narrator in Get on Green by Jason Atkinson. The child narrator is 4-year-old Tonya, and the story follows Tonya’s day at school as she moves from reality to sleep, role models to rebellion, and all this while school dominates with images of conformity.

Hunting for new authors, I read a lot of short story collections, and this is the best overall collection I’ve read this year. The 3rd issue of anthology is due out in the new year, and you bet I’ll be buying it. The anthology is available via subscription but I bought mine via the kindle. Rock on 21st century….

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12 Comments

Filed under Atkinson Jason, Benmore James, Corrigan Colin, Fiction, Hiller Mischa, Jury Alan, Lambert Charles, Marcus Halimah, Moore Jennifer, Shoemaker Ryan

12 responses to “All These Little Worlds: A Fiction Desk Anthology II ed. Rob Redman

  1. This sounds wonderful and I’m alos particularly intrigued by Charles Lambert. I haven’t read anyting by him yet but have a feeling since a couplde of weeks I see him praised very often.
    I will probabaly buy a kindle soon because I would love to read books that are otherwise not available. I feel it is almost my duty to support authors like Conan Kennedy.
    I’m also not much into child narrators and two out of nine stories with that point of view would ususally make me run but you convinced me that I would enjoy them. Thanks for bringing this collection to our attention.

    • Caroline: You would love Charles Lambert’s novels.

      On the subject of the kindle–someone would have to wrest mine from my cold dead hands. I have two and a new kindle fire. There are many free books that are unavailable elsewhere–just downloaded Goethe’s autobiography free and then I’m also working my way through Balzac. I prefer new translations if I can get them, but the lesser known ones aren’t retranslated.

      re: This collection–there’s none of this boy meets girl stuff. All the stories are a little off–some more than others.

  2. leroyhunter

    THREE Kindles!!

    Good stuff on the collection: great to have a reference point for new names.

    • Excessive, I know. I use them for different purposes. At least that’s my excuse.

      • leroyhunter

        How do you find the Fire, Guy?

        • I’m still working my way around it as it only arrived a week ago, but it’s intuitive if you can just let yourself go from the idea of a physical keyboard. So far so good. I much prefer it to the i-pad. I think the film quality is (unbelievable) better and oddly enough I much prefer the size. The i-pad seems bulky and awkward in comparison.

          Amazon gives you a month’s free Prime shipping with the Fire and with that comes a free ‘library’ book a month. Plus then they have a free film library (which is growing) if you also have Prime. They are, apparently running into some sticky legal stuff with book lending but no doubt it will get ironed out.

          You can, I think, only keep it on for 8 hrs w/o recharging, and my regular kindles I tend to take to work and read and not worry about recharging as I can just do that at night.

          Anyway, thumbs up on the Fire.

  3. I’m impressed by the three kindles too, I have to say. There’s a French kindle store too now, Amazon wants me to move from US to French but I don’t want to. I hope they won’t force me to do so.

    I have Charles Lambert on my wish list, I liked your review of Little Monsters. I haven’t had the time to get to it yet.

  4. I have a review copy of this, but haven’t read it yet. Still, I am now looking forward to it.

    Pretty Vacant is, despite not being a Rotten/Vicious number, one of my favourite Sex Pistols’ songs. Then again I don’t agree with the thesis of the Great Rock and Roll Swindle. I don’t think people were had. The Pistols had genuine talent.

    That aside it sounds a good collection and will likely be my introduction to Lambert, which is the bit I’m most looking forward to.

    • I have my own McLaren Theory which goes something like this:

      MM was involved with the Situationists in the 60s. One of the things they argue is that Society is a Spectacle–a “fake reality” which masks the true “capitalist degradation of human life.” (from wikipedia as I don’t have my copy of Guy Debord’s book in front of me.

      One of Debord’s mani precepts was the term Recuperation: and that is the way society intercepts any fresh, meaningful, radical change, and then repackages it until it is meaningless at which point it can be inserted back into society as it has no real value and will enact no change.

      Just look at recycling and the so-called “going green” which is utter bollocks. Gluten-free is the latest. A product that was ‘gluten free’ used to mean something but now the big manufacturers are churning out cereals that are as pumped full of sugar as the next thing. The term Gluten Free is in the process of being successfully recuperated.

      Anyway, one of the ideas of the Situationists–really boiling it down here– was to create a phenomenon–a cult like event and then bring it to its destruction–since art is always recuperated by main stream society. (And we’ve seen that since the demise of the Pistols–same with Che Guevera. People have his image on a t-shirt without knowing the least thing about him–he’s been RECUPERATED into a fashion statement).

      Why did MM sent the Pistols on a low budget tour of the SOUTH with Sid Vicious as a heroin addict? It was a recipe for disaster and a sure bet for implosion. As far as Situationist theory–Malcolm McLaren created the perfect Situationist Event

  5. I’m not very familiar with Debord’s work, though that concept of Recuperation is spot on. Absolutely right and very well observed.

    MM as Situationist. It sounds oddly credible. Then again, while I may have disagreed with much of what he said i was always an admirer of his. He had talent. He had genuine intelligence. He’s much missed, by me at any rate.

  6. Since every fresh original idea is recuperated, the idea is to build something up, get a following and then destroy it–thus making people go out and create again on their own. Really simplified but that’s about it in a nutshell.

    To quote Malcolm: Terrorise, threaten, and insult your own useless generation.

    Holidays in the Sun is supposed to reference Situationist graffiti

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