Adventures In Writing And Reading, Part 2
In the same way that children are not just miniature adult humans, short stories are not tiny novels. There may appear to be a structural resemblance but short stories follow their own logic, often following bizarre threads in quick-fire bursts, momentary headrushes, peeks and snatches of truths. They burn fast and bright and then they are over.
BARRY YOURGRAU: Sand from ‘Wearing Dad’s Head’
Barry Yourgaru spins tight and tiny tales that resemble strange dreams, filling them with the urgency of high-octane adventures albeit filtered through a fuzzy screen of befuddled motives and consequences. In ‘Sand’, the author is sent in search of his dead father, who has perished in the desert in search of stewed fruit, and proceeds to strop and worry and not get a lot done. It also involves a recurring joke about gout, which is quite good.
Most of the stories in this collection involve the author and his parents and the complex relations exposed by the weird events which occur. What I love about these stories is that Yourgrau does not set impose any limits on what can happen and yet manages to pull together meaning so that what the reader has in front of them is not just a series of bizarre events, but a very definite story which is infused with hopes or fears or paranoias or urges… so that the dreams become of universal, rather than merely personal, relevance.
DAVID B: The Heads from ‘Nocturnal Conspiracies’
David B is a French comic artist/ graphic novelist – call it what you will – who first came to my attention when his novel Epileptic was recommended to me. Epileptic is an autobiographical novel about David B’s brother’s battle with epilepsy and his family’s attempts to help cure him, which also enompasses history and philosophy and whole worlds of myths and Gods and monsters. What really struck me about it was the use of visual metaphors – the panels were packed with beasts and armies which represented the family’s struggles. I later found his book Nocturnal Conspiracies, which features depictions of nineteen of David B’s dreams.
His pictures serve to illustrate his dreams more vividly than words could. These dreams are not just beautifully rendered but are also fascinating stories, which are often shot through with paranoia – see the title. ‘Heads’ involves a strange giraffe-headed man and some butchers, and the whole thing is shot through with an unspoken and mysterious air of sinister animosity. As in all of the dreams, the author is present – in the form of a shadow in this instance – and he observes the unfolding of events. I think the appeal of these short graphic tales is in the accuracy with which David B has managed to capture the nature of dreams and the peculiar shape and unfolding of their narratives.
STANLEY DONWOOD: Dracula from ‘Slowly Downward.’
The subtitle for Stanley Donwood’s book is ‘A Collection of Miserable Stories,’ and whilst it is true that most of the stories feature protaganists who drift and limp along through life, his stories are not without humour. They often start innocuously, involve some kind of spectacular and/or unlikely event, only for the story to end with everything pretty much the same as it was at the beginning.
Everything is downplayed – take for example a zombie story entitled ‘An Accident With Trellis’, or the self-explanatory ‘Rubbish Time Machine.’ In ‘Dracula,’ the protaganist finds himself kidnapped by the Count whilst on holiday in Romania, only to find that Dracula has had to open a theme park to pay the bills. He does, of course, escape and ends the story wondering whether he has done the right thing. The juxtaposition of the mundane and the fantastic, as well as the internal worries which haunt all of his characters, seem to be Donwood traits and whilst he courts and plays up to the idea of his characters being ‘miserable’ and hides the emotional core of his stories behind weird narratives, I think that this is very honest writing.
In Episode 3: I will almost certainly be writing about AL Kennedy, Dan Purdue and Rob Shearman.