‘An adventurous and assured collection’ – another Five Star review for ‘Trouble Crossing the Bridge’

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I am so pleased to have another five star review of my collection, featured on Amazon and Goodreads.

It’s by David Rose, who also appeared in this year’s ‘Best (British) Short Stories 2020’, with his story ‘Greetings from the Fat Man in Postcards’. I’m quoting it in full, because of the understanding David exhibits about my work, and for his attention to detail, while providing a good overview. And for the mention of Borges…

‘I was alerted to this author’s work by her story “Whale Watching” in the latest Best British Short Stories 2020, which I admired so much I tracked down more of her work. That story, based on actual events, the filming of part of “Moby-Dick” off the Welsh coast, and the glimpse of that artificial whale by a young girl, describes the way her memory of it, and the response to her memory of successive generations of family, shape and define her life into old age, is included in the collection. The question was: would that level of skill be sustained over a full collection?

No need to fear – this is excellent throughout, many of the stories even stronger than that example, centring on domestic abuse – of wives, of children, from malignancy or neglect, or the ravages of ageing, loneliness, or the failure to respond to others.

They are made powerful by the restraint and control of the writing, the structuring, and the handling of detail. For example, a story of domestic violence which yokes together a scientific experiment on response to authoritative command, Nazi brutality, and the I Love Lucy show, with no straining for effect.

Two of my favourites are art-based (in the ghastly fashionable term, “ekphrastic”), one on Edvard Munch, in old age, at the zoo, the other a fictitious artist and the relationship with his model. But two more stand out, partly because they are paired, mirror-images, in gender and theme. The first concerns a man who is unable ever to forget a face, who has even been employed by the police for his power of recognition surveying crowds, now a free lance tracer of missing persons; the other a woman who suffers the opposite – an inability to remember faces at all, her family’s, even her own. These are both, we learn, actual scientifically defined conditions. The stories explore the human cost of the conditions – the first reminded me of Borges’ story “Funes the Memorious”, the second ends on a macabre suggestion of harm.

It is the scientific underpinning and factual detail that gives them their plausibility, and that same scientific basis is evident in many of the stories. A number of them incorporate quasi-mathematical equations (often given as the title) which form the thematic content but also provide the structure: the terms in the equation forming the sequential narration.

Even without that scientific/technical basis, theme/plot and voice are enough in themselves for the stories to convince. “Rules for Going Skipping” (a clever pun in itself), about a feral girl discovering a baby in a skip – which I initially felt might not work, ended up moving me profoundly.

As indeed did so many – a very high success rate, banishing any suspicion of “Whale Watching” being a flash in the pan. Strongly recommended.’

To have this kind of commendation from an author who is so skilled in the short story form in his own right is particularly pleasing. Thank you so much, David.