Monday 7 June 2010

'Pieces of us'

Not So Perfect 
by Nik Perring

Roast Books published An A-Z Of Possible Worlds by A.C. Tillyer which was a very enjoyable read last year and the kind of book that book bloggers were invented for - one that might struggle for national coverage and yet which richly deserved it. From the same stable comes a collection of short short stories in a square formatted book that is perfectly suited to the short journeys that Roast Books seem to cater to. This, like my last post, is the kind of book that would usually lie a million miles away from my usual reading territory but I can't just sit around reading Roth all day (although wouldn't that be lovely) and the occasional brave plunge into the unknown can yield some interesting results.

So it is too with this collection, which is filled with striking images that made each of the 22 tales immediately memorable on finishing the book. Perring takes a skewed look at human relationships and the many ways in which we fail at them. With each story only consisting of a few pages, these sketches are like little shots of narrative often with a striking visual image at the centre. The image on the cover, perhaps unsuprisingly, comes from My Wife Thew Up A Lemur in which a man watches his wife gradually fill their house with a brood of animals that she vomits forth. In Shark Boy we meet a young protagonist who cannot stop for fear of suffering the same kind of death as his namesake. Movement comes first physically and then mentally as he becomes a renowned scientist but what happens at the moment that he falls in love and the world stands still? This story provides a key to what you might call a dominant theme in Perring's stories. He's a big softie at heart and many of his tales, for all their obvious creative daring, conceal a conventional beating heart at their centre. In the opening story, Kiss, the elderly man who spends more time talking to his plants than his younger wife is shown to have had a plan all along for the moment when he was gone and she left without him. The Mechanical Woman, who hides 'cogs and wheels, gears and shafts' under her skirt and thinks that no man could ever love her has only to meet the engineering enthusiast on the train, the man who has a passion for restoring things, especially those that have been neglected, to summon up the courage to show off what she has so long concealed.

With this kind of driving force behind the stories there are inevitably times when it can feel a bit adolescent (I don't mean that in a snarky way but to illustrate the particular fervour of adolescent amorousness) but on more than one occasion Perring manages to condense into a tiny story something completely fundamental. Say My Name doesn't even fill three pages but cuts right to the heart of the importance of identity in a relationship. The last story, Five Years And The Last Night On Earth, could have been just a soppy tale about having a finite amount of time with someone until Perring ups the stakes with a single sentence. That kind of economy is what makes some of these stories have so much impact, punching well above their weight. All of them, as I said earlier, are incredibly memorable and read in the kind of environment I mentioned earlier might provide you with the kernel of something that could grow with you for the rest of the day.


Sue Guiney 7 June 2010 at 10:00  

I'm so glad you found this. I'm hosting Nik on my blog on Thursday - look out for it. He's a lovely writer, I think, and a lovely guy. Exactly the kind of voice that warrants a readership but might not find one without small presses like Roast. Certainly, these sorts of stories wouldn't, and I just love this form. Plus, they are incredibly difficult to do - even though it may not look like it.

William Rycroft 7 June 2010 at 12:16  

Hi Sue, it's certainly a memorable little book and one that would make an excellent gift I think - the kind of book that should be up by the tills in a bookshop. I look forward to Thursday...

Nik Perring 10 June 2010 at 18:58  

Thank you so much for this - and thanks Sue!

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