Some say they like books of short stories because you can ‘dip in’ to them. With both these collections you’ll find that you dip in and don’t want to dip out until you’ve finished.
Ewan Morrison is an award-winning director of short films and each of the stories in his first collection grabs you and keeps your bum on your seat from the opening scene. There are many of his characters about whom you would like to know more but none of these stories feels like an episode from something else. Each is complete in itself.
In ‘The Speech’ Sean views his childhood through the bottom of a bottle of Merlot as he tries to write a eulogy for his father’s funeral. Two middle-aged adulterers in a hotel room find it difficult to see their liaison through even though they have, in the words of the title, ‘Clean Sheets and a View of the Hudson’. ‘Stoop’ is the story of David, who is having a sale of his family’s worldly goods as things haven’t worked out for them in New York. From England his wife Debbie sends instructions about what to keep. Too late; the children’s books and McDonalds’ freebies are in the yard with the new IKEA bed and the pots and pans for the neighbours to paw over. Another David, another absent father, yearns over the children he’s allowed to see for six hours a week in ‘The Undoing of a Story’.
The Last Book You Read has been described as ‘the most compelling Scottish literary debut since Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting‘ – but don’t let that put you off. We’re a long way from Leith here. Many of the fourteen stories are set in the States for one thing and, for another, Ewan Morrison’s women are not just extras but very often his main, even first-person, characters.
In the title story, ‘Cassandra05′ waits in a bar for her blind date but gets cold feet when she arrives, while in ‘The Room’ Jo-Jo tries to live with her manic depression but without her medication. An unnamed narrator fails to pick up a man for the night in Sauchiehall Street but has her ‘Fuck Buddy’ in reserve.
Relationships are Ewan Morrison’s focus: heterosexual, married, gay, straight, transvestite, adulterous, on-line, adult son and father, father and child; and his camera is in close-up – voyeuristic certainly, but compassionate not salacious, and essential for this through-the-keyhole look at men and women – and children – at the beginning of the 21st century.
In Furthermore, Susie Maguire’s second collection of short stories, the world is viewed through a wider lens, tinted with the author’s own special brand of wit, that takes in motherhood, dogs, cats, depression, hairdressers, voiceovers, hospitals, shoplifting, New Year, murder at 14 Eskbank Drive, and much else.
Doting new father Mike is told some devastating news in ‘S.W.A.L.K.’. In ‘French Lessons’ pubescent Trish and Liliane risk rape in the summer of ’73. In ‘Not Rodin’s Kiss’ Kay immediately regrets inviting Harry in for coffee, ‘acutely aware of how invitingly the sofa glows, red and gold, how much the tufted white wool rug resembles the fleece of a sacrificial lamb.’ Maureen, in ‘A Private View’ wonders if life really is ‘a pair of pristine leggings, waiting to be stretched.’
Sean Connery – of courshe – gets a brief mention, in ‘Skins’. And in a welcome reappearance Marina McLoughlin, in a story called ‘To Boldly Go’, buys her Gran a teapot, discovers astral travelling and visits the Burrell Collection with Ken, about whom she has ambivalent feelings: ‘I personally always think a person should open his mind before he opens his mouth.’
How, in modern etiquette, do you get the attention of an attractive stranger in the street? Drop your lace-trimmed hankie? Or say ‘excuse me, but my Fallopian tubes are calling to you, my ovaries are yodelling’? Such is the dilemma in ‘Leg Money’.
Place is important. In ‘Mae West Optional’ a visiting professor and a student, after an illicit night together, are ‘walking in a capricious Scottish wind… fatigued by a full Scottish breakfast.’ The sky is ‘piled with long, shredded white and grey cloud, like a dirty duvet.’
In ‘Her Drug of Choice’, Laurie is in despair when she has to spend time on her own in too sunny Tunisia and can’t find anything she wants to read. ‘If only she had a book, a good book, she thinks she could avoid emotional meltdown.’
And so say all of us.
Ewan Morrison’s The Last Book You Read and Other Stories is published by Chroma (ISBN 1 845020 48 0 £9.99 PBK); Susie Maguire’s Furthermore is published by Polygon (ISBN 1 904598 34 X £9.99 PBK).
© Kate Blackadder 2005
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