Posted by Paul Samael on Sunday, July 15, 2012 Under: Book reviews
I’m puzzled as to why this excellent short story collection on Smashwords hasn’t been reviewed before, because it appears to have been on the site for some time (since 2009?). But maybe that’s the problem – unless you’re fortunate enough to get a review at a reasonably early stage, your stuff tends to get buried under increasing amounts of everyone else’s stuff. Anyway, I hope that what follows will encourage more people to give it a try.
As the blurb says, these stories are not about airports, which may come as a disappointment to fans of Arthur Hailey - if that’s what you were looking for, this is definitely not your kind of book. A better point of cultural reference might be Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports” – because the stories are all about finding something out of the ordinary in the “background muzak” of everyday life that we would normally ignore or filter out. Starting points range from the mundane - food, transport or buying things at a supermarket – to the rather more unusual – a chakra reading or a woman with a facial mark which is felt to resemble the Virgin Mary. But in each case, the author succeeds in getting us to look at things which we would normally pay little or no attention to with a fresh eye.
Described like that, it may sound like it could be something of a mixed bag – and there is a certainly great variety in style and subject matter. But there are a number of things which give the collection an unusual degree of coherence and consistency, despite the fact that the characters are unconnected. These range from the setting (the majority of the stories take place in San Francisco) to the use of recurring themes or motifs – food as a symbol of love, long distance travel as a metaphor for the emotional disconnection and traffic as an ever-present existential threat. To take the latter as an example, one of the early stories (Clang Clang Clang) revolves around a traffic accident – and after that I felt a sense of tension and menace whenever traffic reappeared in later stories (or relief in some cases when the threat didn’t come to anything).
Taken as a whole, the collection reminded me of “Short Cuts” (the Robert Altman film rather than the Raymond Carver stories on which it was based); I had a similar “privileged” sense of dipping in and out of the everyday lives of a whole series of unconnected characters across the same city. And to return to the analogy with an album of music, the fact that there is such a range of style and subject matter on display proves to be a strength rather than a weakness, because it allows for variation of pace and other interesting contrasts between different pieces.
The author has a real talent for writing very short pieces which – unlike the vast majority of “flash fiction” I have come across – give you a genuine sense of what her characters are feeling (no mean feat in under 1000 words – I particularly liked “Best Laid Plans”). But she can also write very engagingly at greater length, as demonstrated by the sympathy she manages to generate for the central character in the final story,“Excursion.”
A common complaint about short story collections is that they’re like snacks – quite tasty but ultimately unsatisfying and no substitute for the four course meal of a full length novel. This collection did leave me hungry for more – but hungry for more from this author, rather than malnourished. For anyone left feeling the same way, you can find some more (also for free) on judy b’s website (look at the blog section):
In : Book reviews
Tags: "stories for airports" "judy b" "short stories"
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