Barcelona Review Book Reviews:
issue 15 & 16
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issue 16
Lorca: A Dream of Life by Leslie Stainton
Music For Torching by A.M. Homes
Babel: new writing; introduced by Andrew Motion

issue 15
When I Was Mortal,
by Javier Marías
XCITÍES, New French Writing, ed. Georgia de Chamberet
Cows by Matthew Stokoe
The Junk Yard, Voices From an Irish Prison, ed. Marsha Hunt
From The Bering Strait: Winners of Ireland’s Fish Short Story Prize, ed Clem Cairns

Note: The BR encourages readers to buy books at their local independent booksellers, but not all UK books are available in the US and vice versa. For on-line book ordering of UK books Amazon UK  carries all titles reviewed in the BR; all US releases carried by unless otherwise noted.
Lorca: A Dream of Life by Leslie Stainton: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, U.S. 1999

In this latest biography of Federico García Lorca, American Leslie Stainton gives us a reading that focuses squarely on Lorca the man. Specifically, Stainton emphasizes the childlike qualities of Lorca, which gave him his unique vision. He is typically seen as a charismatic character, holding court in a salon or someone’s home, the center of attention, full of life, fun, provocative, delightfully prevaricating - although he could go into a funk if friends or lovers didn’t behave the way he would have them. Born to a well-to-do Andalusian family, Lorca was pampered from an early age. Offered a fine education, from private schools through university, the young Lorca only halfheartedly involved himself in academia, preferring to daydream, put on puppet plays, play the piano (which he did seriously study for a time), write poetry, and cruise the cafés with friends. He was indeed the child who never grew up, wandering through life wherever his art and ego led, buttressed by familial adoration (mainly mother) and financial support (father). He was spoiled to the core and yet there is something undeniably endearing about the Lorca in this portrait. His sheer exuberance and lust for life is contagious and his strong, if rather naive, compassion for the common man is moving. He drew, of course, on the life of the Spanish country people, on the national literature, and the Gypsy songs and dance in the creation of his art. One of his first collections, Gypsy Ballads, captures the passion of the cante jondo (deep song) of the gypsy troubadour and foretells the direction of the later works - highly stylized renderings of the popular folk tradition, stripped of its sentimentality and melodrama (as it had been portrayed by his predecessors) and turned into an utterly new, raw and powerful avant-garde art form, on a par with Ibsen, Beckett and Ionesco.

Stainton recounts the potent friendship between Lorca and the young and unknown Dalí, which began at the famed Residencia in Madrid where the two lived, pratting around constructing "fart meters" and other nonsense. Lorca later joined Dalí in his native Cadeques up north where the friendship deepened, possibly involving a physical relationship before the capricious Dalí turned cold, later taking up with Buñuel in the collaboration of Un Chien Andaluz in which Lorca saw himself mocked by the two. Clearly homosexual - and in a time and country where this was not condoned - Lorca never had an easy time with his lovers and love life. His trip to New York proved an eye-opener when he saw the comparatively relaxed sexual attitude in the States. Here he spent an afternoon with Hart Crane and learned to love Walt Whitman, whose long flowing lines influenced his own ("The King of Harlem," etc.). Cuba and South America proved equally liberating. In Buenos Aires, too, he met Pablo Neruda, who was to become a life-long friend, and Borges, who didn’t take to him, probably piqued by all the attention Lorca received in his own city. Back in Spain, Lorca was made artistic director of the people’s theater group, La Barraca, which traveled the country with funding by the government. He was already a celebrity from his achievements in theater - Blood Wedding, Yerma, The House of Bernarda Alba, among others - able to send money to his father now rather than ask for it. He was just reaching his greatest heights as a writer at age 38 when the Spanish Civil War erupted and he was arrested by the Loyalists and shot without trial because of "his works." Stainton follows his last days where we see the all-too-human Lorca desperately offer money to the Falangists in exchange for his freedom. His lifelong fear and fascination with death seemed to lead to just this moment. He became a martyr to the Republican cause and to artists everywhere. (Stainton tells us it was Lorca’s death that turned Neruda into the political activist he became.) It was an ironic end for a man who was basically apolitical. His humanitarianism of course led him to side with the Republic, and he signed many petitions to that effect, but unlike the majority of his friends, he was not a member of the Communist Party, not caring for politics on that level. He was an artist first and foremost, whose poetic genius revolutionized Spanish theater, taking it from the Golden Age of the late 16th century to the very forefront of the modern era. Stainton’s sensitive portrait - including new photos and newly discovered archival material - is a straightforward, chronological biography, written in simple and direct prose. There is no literary criticism per se, but rather a clear account of Lorca’s artistic direction and development, including a look at how his homosexuality informed his art. It is an enjoyable and highly informative book, full of anecdotes and insight into the man and his time. As an accompaniment to the classic Ian Gibson biography (1989), it is a much-welcomed addition. J.A.



Music For Torching by A.M. Homes Doubleday, 1999

There is something disturbingly American about A.M. Homes’ fourth novel (Jack, In a Country of Mothers, The End of Alice) - for better and for worse. On the downside it seems to be following a formula, one set by Cheever and Updike, those master chroniclers of middle-class suburbia,  and most recently taken up by Rick Moody. In fact, take Moody’s The Ice Storm, update the 60s setting to the present and voilà! - you have Music For Torching. It’s as though the two authors were using exactly the same blueprint: focus on apparently normal middle-class suburbia, scratch the surface and view the inevitable neuroses - angst, self-absorption, fear of aging, fear of not measuring up, fear of everything; zoom in on the extra-marital sexual liaisons, a little behind-the-scenes kinkiness, the traumas of the dysfunctional kids from the dysfunctional families; and for a finale end with a tragic moment (one that has always been lurking, but still comes as a surprise) which, for the moment anyway, reveals the depth of depravity of its characters and the community and gives everyone pause. Early on this sense of déjà vu descends on the reader and the blueprint becomes transparent, the ending - some variation on the tragic moment - predictable. That’s too bad because A.M. Homes can write the socks off most of her contemporaries and this latest endeavor would seem in some ways to be a waste of talent. It’s as though she is saying to Moody, who is a friend, "OK, here’s my take on the sick suburbia theme, look what I can do." If you can accept the imagined scenario, that this is an exercise in formula, then kudos to Homes. As one would expect, she does it well (the upside):  it’s far grittier than Moody, again as one would expect from Homes, and with a flat nasty climax, which all in all serves to cut to the quick of the subject, stripping it down to its dirty core. One doesn't laugh so much as wince, but it's not without humor either.

The community in this case revolves around some half dozen families who regularly get together on Saturday for a barbecue, dinner, or some form of activity. Our protagonists are Paul and Elaine Weiss (characters from Homes’ short story collection The Safety of Objects). Paul and Elaine are in their early 40s, have two young boys, a nice home (although to their minds it doesn’t compare well to their neighbors’ homes). Paul has a good job in advertising (although he is insecure about it), sex is good, money not a major problem and, of course, they’re miserable to the core. After returning home one night after the obligatory Saturday get-together, and while they are fucking on the sofa, Elaine says: "I’m bored . . . I’m so bored, it’s not even funny." To which Paul replies: "I’m unhappy . . . I’m unbelievably unhappy." And they stop fucking and cry. When Paul sets up their own barbecue for a family dinner later that week, he squirts charcoal starter everywhere, and Elaine kicks the grill over. The two stand there and look at it, then gather the boys and go out to eat. Their house is burning down and they feel wonderfully liberated, like the time they smoked crack and saw fireworks. But this "stupid" expedient to escape tediousness (Is there a stupidity clause in their house insurance, they wonder) is short-lived. The house didn’t burn all the way down, it’s only "cosmetic." Paul and Elaine will stay with neighbors while it is being repaired and the boys will each stay with a separate family. As the house is being restored, personal lives deteriorate further. "What is wrong with us? Why are we so unhappy? Why?" So goes the familiar refrain. As Paul and Elaine take up residence in the home of the Nielsons (Nielson, by the way, for non-Americans, conjures "Nielson Rating" - a TV survey to assess the most oft-watched programs - the "norm," in other words), they come to " . . .the devastating confirmation that everything they ever suspected about how much better the lives of the neighbors are has proven true. Everyone else is more organized, happier, their lives less fraught, more satisfying. Without a doubt other people do it better." But all is not what it seems at the Nielsons either, proving that the only normal people in life are the people one doesn’t know well.

Homes’ "take" isn’t exactly one of black humor although it’s there ("Isn’t it surprising none of us has cancer yet?" a neighbor blithely asks over cocktails). Nor is it absurdist. Burning down the house sounds like a plausible lapse of sanity in this spiritual wasteland. It’s rather a hyperreal portrait, akin to Elaine’s mother asking: "Is it bright in here or am I getting a migraine?" The spotlight’s on super high voltage and perhaps distorts our perception a bit, but we’re firmly grounded in American suburbia. The climax - perfect, that’s all I’ll say - clinches it. This is a novel that could only have come from America, where indeed personal and collective neuroses do seem intensified in a distinctly unique manner, as headlines confirm when it spins out of control. Homes may have resorted to formula, but she has her finger on the pulse of the American middle-class and delivers a seeringly honest portrait of the "Joneses," which nevertheless manages to carry some hard universal truths. J.A.

Babel: new writing; introduced by Andrew Motion CCPA Paperback, U.K. 1999

Babel is an anthology (the eleventh in a series) edited, designed and published by members of the Creative Writing MA group at the University of East Anglia, containing work they have produced during the first two-thirds of their year-long course. This auspicious program - akin to the Iowa Workshop et al in the U.S. - has produced such writers as Booker Prize winners, Ian McEwan and Kasuo Ishiguro. The present collection contains 22 selections and I was eager to see its offerings. Unfortunately (for my personal interest), it only holds three short stories out of the lot. Or five, if we count one contributor’s three short pieces. The rest consists of poetry, two short plays, and extracts from novels in progress, which read like extracts from novels in progress and for the most part don’t work well as self-contained pieces. (How did it come to be, I wonder, that nearly half this class is spending course time writing a novel? Have they already honed the craft of short fiction?) If it wasn’t quite what I expected, it’s a commendable anthology nevertheless, and I should think of particular interest to writers and students of writing in, and outside, the U.K. What’s going on there? How is it different? The first story, "Chair," by Colm Berrill is a delightfully quirky tale of a thick-in-the-head young man, who one day goes vegetal and sits like a lump in his poor mum and sis’s parlor, his existence revolving around consumption and expulsion - until, that is, one of mum’s lodgers gets bored and decides to have some fun.. Londoner Sonia Lambert’s story "Highbury Fields Forever," is an exceptionally well-rendered account of a hip young woman’s coming to terms with the early death of her husband; while the last three short pieces by Sarah Spiller veer slightly from the traditional and, in the case of "Crazyjet Arrives," for example, tell of a crazy (unreliable) e-mail personality who electronically invades the lives of the (equally unreliable) narrator and her husband. The ten novel extracts show a variety of styles and techniques which range from the conventional to the experimental. Emma Brooker’s extract from The Deal concerns a young, on-the-skids couple who take up residence on a farm in exchange for labor, and sets the scene (corn dollies; eerie feelings) for some presumably occult venture to come. Among the other more conventional offerings are Kate McCormack’s extract from 36D, which relays the goings-on of a group of young clubbers; Tiffany Murray’s Fancydancing with Elvis, which takes us into The Forest of Dean where the backward protagonist, a middle-aged mama’s boy, likes to wander; Okigbo’s Pimper’s Paradise, which follows a young busker fixated on an Ethiopian beauty in the underground; and Tim Guest’s Gravity’s angels, the one non-fiction piece, taken from his memoir of growing up in a commune of the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Of the more experimental selections, some work better than others. Francine Chapman’s imaginative and titillating Ruhe seems set in some parallel Victorian universe where people hibernate and roost; while Praveen Herat’s A Theory of Everything takes so many sharp turns it is hard to imagine a coherent novel, although the extract does contain some fine writing. The poetry is all highly readable and of exceptionally good quality from a writing class; undoubtedly helped by the tutelage of England’s Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, who led the course. All in all an impressive and diverse example of new writing from England, which (mercifully) doesn’t reek of the overly polished and often mundane fare that can come out of the writing seminar. J.A.


When I Was Mortal by Javier Marías (translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa) The Harvill Press, U.K. 1999

From one of Spain’s best known contemporary writers comes this collection of twelve stories taken from commissioned pieces over the past decade, which serve as a good introduction to the author. (Other English translations to date: All Souls [1996]; A Heart So White [1995], winner of the 1997 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award); and the latest Tomorrow in the Battle Think On Me [1998]). Marías has aptly been described as Proustian for his lucid descriptions as well as his narrator’s attempt to recreate an experience based on a sustained effort of memory, often triggered by trains of association. Compared to most postmodern English-language literature, Marías is quaintly old-fashioned, more turn of the century than turn of the millennium. The stories offer little in the way of contemporary references, evoking an unfixed (but seemingly older) period of time, giving the collection something of a sepia tint. The longest and most satisfying story, "Blood on a Spear" (50 pages), gives us our typical narrator, whose voice is found throughout the stories; he is aloof, urbane, well educated, a man of early middle age with interesting and often helpful friends, an observer of minute detail, a man with the time, patience and curiosity to see something through - in this case, to solve the mystery of a friend’s murder. The friend is a 39-year-old homosexual found dead in his apartment along with a naked woman, also dead, with whom he has presumably had a sexual encounter - an incongruity that the narrator cannot accept. Filled with allusive detail, it works to good effect as our narrator’s astute eye and sharp intuition help unravel the mystery.

Murder crops up frequently in the stories; there are also ghosts, suicides, and a touch of madness. In the title story, "When I Was Mortal," the narrator is a ghost who now has the ability to remember everything he has seen and heard as a mortal; but more than that, he can see and hear with an overview that takes him beyond the grasp of his mortal understanding. This story, too, involves a murder - the narrator’s - which he can now recall with an omniscient overview that before eluded him. "Broken Binoculars" recounts a gentleman’s afternoon at the racetrack in which he is thrown together with a curious man with an even more curious occupation. Typical of our narrator is his description of the stranger: "The fact is that (to my taste) he was extremely badly, albeit expensively, dressed: a double-breasted suit (but with the jacket open, as I said) in an unlikely greenish-grey colour, undoubtedly difficult to find; the shirt, which seemed overly starched for the times, was, I fear, wine, not an ugly colour in itself, but inappropriate in such a tall man; his tie was an incomprehensible swarm (birds, insects, repellent Mirós, cats’eyes), in which the predominant colour was yellow; the oddest thing were his shoes . . . ." And on it goes, telling us as much about the overly-observant narrator as the man he observes. In "In Uncertain Time" our narrator brilliantly captures a football player’s moment on the pitch as he scores a goal and then goes on to recount the man’s personal history which followed. The narrator’s uncanny sense of remembered detail doesn’t always lead to clear resolution: In "The Night Doctor" he vividly recalls a night in Paris six months ago when he accidentally observed a doctor’s night-time visit to his Italian friend, Claudia - a curious event which puzzles him with its implications, but one he doesn’t wish to openly question; while in "The Honeymoon" the narrator is seen in a hotel room with his new wife, who is ill and in bed; he is standing on the balcony, transfixed by a woman in the square - an obsessive observation that will have its consequences, although the reader, like the narrator, is left uncertain of the outcome. "Fewer Scruples" (available in TBR) is the one story told from a female point of view - the female here being a young mother strapped for cash who goes to a screen test for a porno film.

Hip and happening, Marías is not - a ‘compliment’ the author would undoubtedly appreciate; but, in its Old-World settings (a Parisian apartment; the streets of Madrid; a beach hotel in San Sebastian; Rye, England, circa 1910) with its narrator’s rich and suggestive descriptions, deft insights, and cool detachment, the collection is a memorable and much welcome one in an era of hipper-than-thou and postmodern stylistics. A must read for those who desire to know something of the literature of Spain today. J.A.

XCITÍES, the Flamingo Book of New French Writing, edited by Georgia de Chamberet, 1999

French-born editor Georgia de Chamberet makes it clear in her Preface that she wants to show the real France of today: "  ...forget those glorified clichés to which so many Francophile pundits and tour-promoters cling: cafés and Left-Bank existentialism, sultry sexy sirens and pouting starlets, Godard and Truffaut, Coco Chanel and chic little poodles, châteaux and fine wines, Provence and pastis, brie and baguettes, Magnum Photographers and Robert Capa’s Generation X, Duras and le nouveau roman, 1968 and all that..." Old hat, indeed, when focusing on the radical changes of the 80s and 90s which have transformed France into a cultural mosaic where the focal point is just as likely to be La Banlieue (the poor, working-class neighborhoods surrounding France’s main cities, where Les Cités had been built in the 1960s) as the city center. Themes of immigration, club culture (that which produced DaftPunk), and the 90s gay scene are now the vanguard as the editor would show in the 16 short stories and two non-fiction pieces which make up the collection.

The first few offerings prove disappointing. "Fuck Me" by Virginie Despentes (about two young girls out to fuck and fuck over men) is unconvincing and goes absolutely nowhere, perhaps because it is an extract from a novel like many of the selections and doesn’t work well as a self-contained piece. One fears, however, that it earned its niche - as novel and extract - on shock value alone. Guillaume Dustan’s "Serge the Beauty & Rendezvous," another extract, fares better; its depiction of the contemporary gay scene, which reads about like any other gay-city-club scene with quickie blow jobs in the toilets and what have you, is at least a thoroughly believable slice of life. Ditto for Frédéric Beigbeder’s "Trashed," set in a Parisian club privé where the upper-income bracket of clubbers mingle. Segue to a rave on the outskirts of Paris (Mehdi Belhaj Kacem’s "Anteform") for an acid rant, a bit reminiscent of Burroughs, on the mental and physical alterations induced by the different varieties of dance music. And for a different turn altogether (and some of the best writing), Abdourahman Waberi’s "The Gallery of the Insane" gives us a young man’s lyrical portrait of his father’s khat-induced lethargy in a dusty African town while author Mounsi, in "Into the Void," recounts his Islamic father’s descent into madness, praying in the middle of Paris’s ring-road as if on Holy Ground. IIan Furan Cohen’s "Wonderland" humorously reinforces the Jewish-mother stereotype while Mathieu Lindon’s "F.N. Rally," reading more like a piece of gonzo journalism than fiction, takes us to a Le Pen rally and captures a scene of racist supporters of the Front National - sadly, as much a part of the real France today as any other.

Two of the best selections yet are the longer non-fiction pieces: Christov Rühn a.k.a. DJ Tov’s "Lost in Music," which give us an insider’s view of the history of the French club scene; and the editor’s interview with Marcel Desailly, the football hero who helped take France to the 1998 World Cup championship. Desailly, a Black African who’s lived longer in France than Africa, and who plays for an English club (Chelsea), is an important figure for the new era of multi-culturalism that is fast defining France, as the interview - an odd but appropriate inclusion - nicely demonstrates. The collection has its ups and downs, but the editor accomplishes her goal of introducing the reader to the new France as seen through the passions, pursuits and literary creativity of its younger generation. Good translations throughout. J.A.

Cows by Matthew Stokoe, Creation Books. Paperback edition 1999

The back cover of this little gem has a warning: "Contains scenes of explicit sex and violence"; and I wasn’t too sure if this was just marketing or if books had now sadly gone the way of CDs and movies and had to be labeled in this manner. After reading the novel, however, I would suggest that the jacket read: "Contains, somewhere, a passage that isn’t explicit sex and violence". The main protagonist, Steven, is one sick puppy. He is twenty-five, lives at home with his mum and dog and spends his time watching TV – The Brady Bunch is a favorite - and dreaming of coming home from work to a kiss from a happy, smiling wife and a meal on the table, with his clean-cut blond-haired kids fresh from playing in a cornfield. Real sicko. What has driven Steven to these depths of depravity is the fact his mother, whom he calls the Hagbeast, is just that. Serving revolting food and controlling Steven in almost every move he makes, she stinks from a rotting, dripping womb that she blames Steven for from when she "shat" him out. Her abuse is total. Dog, the dog, is Steven’s only "friend" and drags itself around the house because the Hagbeast crushed its back with a brick. During one argument with her son she lifts her skirt and pisses on the "whimpering animal." Quite a character. Steven’s only escape from the Hagbeast is work at a slaughterhouse and his relationship with the very odd girl, Lucy, who has just moved in upstairs and is convinced that all our bad thoughts and suffering will show up as a physical black lump in our intestines. The slaughterhouse provides no escape from the insanity surrounding Steven. Foreman Cripps tells Steven "We all have it, that dark core. It makes us men. And if we examine it, if we can bear to hold it up to ourselves and acknowledge it as our own, then it makes us more than men. The slaughter room is where we become complete, boy." Soon Steven is killing the cows as Cripps takes him from the rear or masturbates. With each abuse – and we are talking serious abuse to animals here, such as six men drilling holes into a cow’s flanks with apple corers then fucking the holes as a seventh man licks and sucks on the cow’s excreting anus – Steven’s "dark core" does make him become stronger, strong enough to now challenge the Hagbeast, even to make her knowingly eat his feces. But yet another surreal turn of events takes place when Steven is approached by a talking bull who wants his help. Weird is about to become a whole lot weirder.

So what’s the point? Well, if anything, it's a darkly comic take on the tales of the abused overthrowing the abuser only to become an abuser himself, never having learned the hard lesson - a nauseating spin on that never-ending circle of power-struggles that sums up so much happening in the world. In an era where one can blithely channel-zap wars on the telly, it's hard to feel anything for the real sickness and the real violence going on around us, but Cows will make you gag - it will do that, as Stokoe succeeds in taking the reader straight into a bloody hell pit and knocking off any complacent smug. And it has some very impressive and totally sick ways of killing those you hate. Highly recommended if you thought American Psycho was for pussies. But if you love burgers then avoid – you just don’t want to know what has been pumped into your meat back at the slaughterhouse. M.G.S.

The Junk Yard: Voices From An Irish Prison, edited byMarsha Hunt, Mainstream Publishing 1999

There are two very different parts to this book and both are of interest. First is the twenty-page Introduction by editor Marsha Hunt. Hunt has quite a life behind her and is now getting serious critical acclaim for her writing. It was her belief that her skills could be of use to others, and, as she says, she had a desire to break her "cosy denial," pretending that Ireland (now her home) was a bucolic haven; so, in a need to set accounts aright, she sought the job of writer-in-residence at Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison. She knew that her "students" would have minimum reading and writing skills (two had none whatsoever as it turned out) and that she wasn’t going to get far with any "hokum about literature." Her idea was to try and help them "Kill Time" and to get some kind of story about themselves, about their lives, onto paper. Her secret weapon, she tells us, was her firm belief that anybody can write if they have something personal to write about. It wasn’t long before she discovered that most of the people in the classes were quite young and in prison for drug-related crimes. Nearly all had been (or still were) heroin addicts whose habits had started when they were teenagers. They didn’t really have any life to write about. After a shaky start Hunt slowly got through to her three classes. A breakthrough, of sorts, was Yogi’s account of going cold turkey while stuck in a cell with a sleeping partner. Once she got their confidence and respect, the material started to come. This she then typed up for them, giving them more confidence when seeing their words in type. But it isn’t just the classes that Hunt writes about here, it is also the prison where she herself felt threatened, not by the prisoners but by the guards. Marsha Hunt is an African American; she sprang from a ghetto background to go on to a rich life of a rock-stardom in the 70s and becoming a mother to one of Jagger’s babies before turning to a writing career. For such status - and her liberal leanings, for why else was she there, but to offer some help to the prisoners - the guards seemed to resent her. Hunt sets the scene nicely, recounting her early trepidations and false starts; has her say about the prison system, questioning why it is used as a dumping ground for drug addicts; and then hands the book over to the "writers." This is divided up into five sections: Childhood, Family Life, The Score, Criminal Life and Prison Life, with four or five short pieces in each. The writers' names have been changed and a handwritten statement heads each story.

All the pieces are personal accounts, bone-close to the truth if not entirely so - and, as expected, some work better than others. A "proper" writer dealing with similar themes - Irvine Welsh for example - would obviously present a tighter, more gripping and grimier account, but it is the honesty, the simplicity and the knowledge of how difficult it must have been to put pen to paper that give these bleak pieces their power. Hunt hoped that there might be a major hidden talent among her captive pupils – author Brendan Behan was an ex-resident of Mountjoy – and although no one shines through there is plenty of natural talent in Gotzy, Yogi and the only female, Brie. One publisher was critical of the repetitive theme, but, as Hunt insists, this is what gives them their collective importance, to which she adds: "Instead of complaining about the similarity of theme, one should ask why so many have a similar tale to tell." If there is a similarity, it is in the similarity of style and vocabulary, slang or otherwise. Everyone has the same voice, which is not surprising, as they all share the same urban poverty, the same city, the same addiction and the same institution. Marsha Hunt applauds their bravery for telling their stories and she deserves applause from us for getting those stories out of prison and onto the street. The collection is best read collectively, but for a peek, The Barcelona Review has published Gotzy’s story which appears under the section entitled "The Score." M.G.S.

From The Bering Strait and Other Stories; Winners of Ireland’s Fish Short Story Prize, edited by Clem Cairns . Fish Publishing 1999

The Fish prize of £1,000 is open to any writer who pays the £8.00 ($12) entry fee for an unpublished story of under 5,000 words. This simplicity means the international response gives the eighteen stories in this collection a rich cultural diversity and a mix of styles making it a boon for new and up-and-coming short fiction writers who need a varied anthology to see just what is happening ‘out there’. The stories on offer provide a useful yardstick for those wanting to hone their writing skills.  They're all nicely accessible. They don’t bore or tax you with experimentation, they are neither mainstream nor particularly contemporary, they are just… good solid stories. The overall winner, "From The Bering Strait" by Oregonian Gina Ochsner, is a subtle beast that gnaws at you. Its sense of resignation, as a community freezes to death thanks to global cooling, is finely balanced with a stiff upper-lip attitude. "There’s a funeral every other day, it seems, but nobody cries, of course." "Etienne’s Tattoo," the overall second winner from Geraldine Taylor, is a strange tale of friendship and love and a perfect example of a tight, economical but full short story. For this reader other stories that stood out include Mick Wood’s tale, "Heard of A Band Called Mysterical?" that will be far too familiar to countless thousands out there who thought their little garage/pub band was going to be the next big thing. The intentionally childish "Mr McInty’s Special Window" by Rebecca Lisle is told over seventeen chapters – not easy in under 5,000 words – and should help cure little children of being nosy little critters. Ian Wild’s darkly surreal comedy, "The Woman Who Swallowed The Book of Kells," sees the death of Christianity coming from the oddest place and was seen as a fitting story for The Barcelona Review’s last issue in this century - and a chance to decorate a website with thousand-year-old imagery. A few of the stories are slightly flawed in some way – confusion of what is happening and when, weak endings and so on. But it's more rewarding to read a flawed work with promise than a stale, overworked piece, which smacks of the labored effort of a writer’s workshop. Judging by the stories on offer The Fish Short Story Prize would seem to be fair and without pretensions. The bad news is that this year’s competition is almost closed (Nov. 30th). There's always next year though. For full details check their website-

© 1999 The Barcelona Review
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