How we come in, how we go out, sex and death; these are the governing drives, our two greatest themes. Humid embrace, cold sweat.
In the vigour to mortis anthology, SEX & DEATH, edited by Sarah Hall and Peter Hobbs, twenty splendid stories that excoriate and excruciate the extremes of the exquisite remind us of what we already know – intuitive muscle memory – but can’t quite reconcile; the cognitive dissonance of living and dying and the attempts at loving in between.
The charge is lead by Australian writer, Robert Drewe, in a story of a beach wandering widow and the restorative power of the sea, DR. PACIFIC. The wry, distinctive voice of Robert Drewe combs the beaches of a life fulfilled, of the flotsam and jetsam that washes onto the sands of time….’waves and tides and winds seem irregular forces of nature, erratic in their evenness, but there’s always a proper reason for their existence.’
Ben Marcus follows with a story of sibling angst, George & Elizabeth, an estrangement between bother and sister exasperated by the death of their father. It is full of the strident, muscular and bruising language of another famous story featuring George and Martha.
Sydney based Ceridwen Dovey’s marvellous meditation on modern maternity, Fixations, gives pregnant pause about the politically correctness permeating procreation and progeny.
Similar themes are explored in Claire Vaye Watkins’ 10 item Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale.
The wonderfully monikered Wells Tower brings his acerbic wit and considerable cynicism to the potentially incriminating The Postcard you haven’t found the right person because the right person doesn’t exist. You want to be happy. Forget the big pink abstractions. Find someone whose daily presence is not intolerable to you.’ wish you were here.
Sarah Hall’s piece on neurological nymphomania, a manifestation of meningioma, Evie, is possibly the most salacious of the set, while examining notions and nature of love and jealousy.
Jon McGregor’s Where Hast Thou Been regarding a 22 year old virgin and his eventual initiation into carnal pleasure is a gem of, ahem, Coming of age. Think The Year My Voice Broke and you’re on your way.
South African Damon Galgut’s spare story of a fugitive life, a prodigal return, and a metaphysical visitation has a truly haunting quality, as does Courttia Newland’s Reversible.
Alan Warner’s Porto baso scale modellers is a triumph of comedy featuring a trio of geriatric plane spotters fixated with Airfix model aircraft who welcome a new member – a young girl trying to kick multiple addictions – into their club. If adapted for the screen, this would be a perfect vehicle for Michael Caine, Christophe Waltz, Michael Gambon and Sally Hawkins. Get the picture?!
Canadian Lyn Coady’s succinctly titled Fin describes the banal breakup of a marriage, the wife becoming “the sudden caretaker, overseeing the museum of us.”
Science fiction satire with sex and death components, Peter Hobbs’ In the Reactor, is a laugh out loud cautionary tale set inside a solar panelled faux nuclear power plant, largely operated by robots but overseen by a bonded bonehead male and a punning linguist lass.
Boggle your mind with the fleshy pleasures of Brunhilda In Love by Taiye Selasi, a sassy story of a fleshpot whose flashpoint is achieved by a toilet roll – or should that be let-toy roll! Well, really!
For the time strapped, the short story is the perfect release for the horologically harried reader and also a quick introduction to a writer you may want to pursue. I doubt there is one among the twenty here, limber of libido, explorers of the undiscovered country, whose acquaintance will not be followed up.
Purge your urges and explore your anxieties with this score of excoriating stories, SEX & DEATH, published by Faber & Faber.