The thing about George Saunders is he always makes you think. This is definitely a set of stories for those who enjoy being intellectually challenged by an unusual world rather than for readers who take comfort in the known and seek familiarity in a story. If you loved Saunders’ prize winning but weird Lincoln in the Bardo, or have pretensions to literature and study his texts on writing craft, hey, here’s a book for you.
His stories often have the theme of some kind of sub-category of humans, exploited or trapped, those who don’t fit the mainstream. Lincoln in the Bardo had this with the dead wandering the graveyard unable to escape purgatory. In this collection, three of the futuristic stories also explore this idea, the sub-groups being exploited by the more powerful who, the way Saunders describes it, are acting within the expectations of prevailing society.
Continue reading “Liberation Day – book review”
Small Things like These, by Claire Keegan
The Magdalen laundries, tool of the Catholic Church and Irish state, was closed down in 1996, to abject disgrace. In 2013 the Irish government gave a much belated apology to the women who had suffered in these prisons of forced labour. Women who had ‘fallen’ and needed to be removed from society. Some thirty thousand women are estimated to have been incarcerated, their babies adopted out. A shocking number of babies died.
Fallen. That word. Young women ‘fell’ pregnant. Their fault for being a bit clumsy, tripping up because they weren’t paying attention.
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Worse things happen at sea, by John McCrystal
Worse things happen at sea is probably the most appropriate book title ever. Whatever catastrophe happens on land you can crank up the Richter scale of disaster if it happens out on the briny. Flood, fire, psychopath, injury, grandstanding, storm, starvation, getting lost – put a ship in the background of any of these and they become so, so much worse.
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Glass Houses and other stories, by Karen Phillips
Each story in this collection is a piece of sea glass: a tiny part of a much bigger story, hard edges worn away, polished and immediately recognisable as precious.
There are fourteen stories, mostly about family relationships and all very kiwi in place and culture, related by someone in their later years. In every story life has thrown up a glitch: dementia of a loved one, death of a child, a son travelling in a danger zone and out of touch, observations in a supermarket queue. I met Karen Phillips last night and asked her about her characters, who often seem to be peripheral to the main story going past at a faster clip and she agreed that she sees and wonders about the people on the edges.
Continue reading “Glass Houses—book review”