In case you didn't see it on Beattie's Book Blog, here's a copy of the thoughtful review by author and poet Maggie Rainey-Smith. If you want to find out more about the writers of Slightly Peculiar Love Stories, you can start here.
This collection has been 'gathered and edited' by Penelope Todd, founder of Rosa Mira exceptional eBooks. In the foreword, she says that in selecting for this collection she wanted to be 'touched, jolted, teased, stretched and heartened and allowed to feel the weight, breadth and diversity of love.'
I agreed to review these stories, fascinated by the title, and too, I had a new I pad and I had not yet read an eBook, and a short story collection seemed like a very good starting point. It took me a wee while to become comfortable with the screen, the page turning and returning (as you do with short stories), but very soon I relaxed into the idea of being able to enlarge the fonts, fast forward and back to re-read stories, and forgot about the medium, and began to enjoy the stories.What strikes me most about this collection are not just the diversity and the peculiarity of the stories, but a common link of lingering images, rather more than perhaps particular story-lines. These are after all, peculiar and indeed there is a range of peculiarity. There are writers that I know well, such as Craig Cliff, Coral Atkinson, Tina Makereti, Sue Wootton, Linda Niccol, Claire Beynon and not so well-known international names, whose stories are here in translation. What I found in reading to review, is that this collection is not for skim-reading and the stories reward with re-reading and a sinking in, not expecting the expected, letting go just a little.
I found similarities of themes and ideas too. Craig Cliff wrote a strange erotic Italian fable Statues about a Florentine named Lalo who becomes obsessed with a sculpture of Adonis in the piazza. It works because he maintains so well the style and tone required for this sort of tale 'the folly of Alfonso Dondolio’s dotage was a sculpture'. I think Cliff is having a lot of fun with this story. Similarly, but perhaps more seriously, Tina Makereti renders a highly sensual well-known Maori legend, the story of Hine and Tane and anchors it exquisitely, bordering on erotic as Tane creates his woman from the earth.
Coral Atkinson is terrific at the evocation of historical detail in her writing. Chips of stars is about the passion of a pre-war romance, the delights of choosing an engagement ring “see the way the stone dances in the light” the excitement of 'wait till the girls at work see it', contrasted with the soldier’s return. He brings home stockings to his girl that in his hunger for the sensual, he has already unwrapped 'they fell like syrup on the roughness of his hands' but his passion is not well matched. This story contrasts rather nicely with Maxine Alterio’s Improvement Projects about a counsellor visiting an older woman and having her assumptions about the aged and sexual appropriateness, upturned.
There is an interesting pairing of themes with the stories of Sue Wootton and Lyndal Adleigh (not her real name) where the protagonists have strange obsessions, one who collects the business cards of men “her purse is bursting with them, and the other who finds solace in the company of a telephone (like a cat purring) working her way through from A to Z, hoping no-one ever answers, but someone very relevant to her life, finally does.
Alex Epstein creates four vignettes, the shortest of which, ‘the Name of the Moon’, really appealed to me. It’s no more than two sentences but sums up rather well the end of a relationship.
Salman Masalha’s All Clear (translated from Hebrew) complete with coupling turtles, the Intifada and the lover’s body as a metaphor for the land, war and politics is an eerie, odd and compelling story about love in a war zone with gas masks completing the climax.
The story that made me laugh out loud (actually the only one) was Tim Jones’s Said Sheree, a rather acute satire of two poet same-sex lovers – one is a tier one poet the other a 'tier two poet for funding purposes' ( and the whole awards and grants backdrop had me grinning with recognition and enjoyment ). It’s a wry little piece that anyone in Wellington will recognise rather well I think. Miranda, the second-tier poet has a reading in the Hutt Valley at the Angus Inn. 'It was a wet night in the Hutt Valley and some of the locals stayed away.' A morality tale for the upwardly mobile writer perhaps, rather than a sensual fable, but oh, it hits the mark.
In reviewing a collection of short stories, it is not possible to pay full tribute to all the contributors, but I imagine there is something in this collection for everyone. Brian Walpert’s, Earth-One, Earth-Two superhero story about Martin the taxi driver who thinks he is The Flash, a DC Comics character is quirky and in the end, tragic. Elena Bossi in The Ache writes of lost desire and rather beautifully describes a husband out of love thus... 'He only wishes that his lips would lose their lush appearance and settle rather into the smile of a man who has realised all his plans.'
Linda Niccol tackles the poignancy of a lost love where the person still exists but not as you remember them. There is a train journey with the aged couple and the husband briefly recalling when he first met his wife. This story has a cinematic quality. I found the opening paragraph confusing and felt the mention of a train journey at the start was unwarranted as it reveals itself quite adequately later on. I enjoyed it much more on a second reading.
Claire Beynon’s piece on the trapeze is very much an image, rather than story and an image that lingers. She is a writer, photographer and artist and this piece reflects all of that in its simplicity, thoughtfulness and brevity.
Janis Freegard’s story Mill, I had already read, and envied when she won the Katherine Mansfield short story award in 2001, and if I recall correctly, she wrote this piece in one sitting over one morning which I think is sometimes how the very best short stories seem to happen – as if they arrive fully formed – good to see the story within a collection.
There are twenty writers contributing to this collection and so a review cannot do justice to all of the stories, but suffice to say that they all engage, intrigue, and entertain in quite different ways and take risks, like Space Oddity’ by Angelo R. Laciest a story that I needed to read twice, or experimental perhaps, like Less than half a day by Christos Chrissopoulos...a story that I found a bit more challenging to engage with, but that may well reflect my preference for the traditional form. He uses Net-vibe with postings over a period of two or more months including numbered 'views' and comments by the two key characters, the same way a story might be written I guess through blog postings, Skype comments or indeed perhaps messages on Facebook.
I haven’t spoken of every story and all twenty writers, but can say with confidence that all the stories are interesting, engaging and yes, ‘slightly peculiar’ and possibly the stories in translation appear more so. What exactly did I lose? By Lawrence K. I. Pun, is a Chinese story translated, that needed a rereading and still left me guessing a little. I think it was meant to.
This collection works really well as an eBook, to dip in and out of, between train stations, to and from work or last thing at night, just a story here and there before you sleep, fodder for your dreams, or just enough to startle, tease, surprise and as the editor says, to ‘stretch’ at times as well.