Pretend Genius Press

ISBN 0977852628

Paperback, 248 pages

Promoted by publisher Pretend Genius Press as “underground classics: read these on the tube/subway/metro and look cool while missing your stop”, New Short Stories 1 is a collection of thirteen mainstream stories selected as prize winners in the Willesden Herald’s International Short Story Prize 2007.  This POD book is handsomely presented with a moody cover by Stratos Fountoulis, and its production standards are generally high, although some stories betray evidence of less-than-perfect editing.

The Willesden Herald is based in north London, and stories from writers with a connection to the British Isles predominate.  The stories vary in quality from the excellent “Kid in a Well” by American Willie Davis, in which a reformed alcoholic struggles to divert his former drinking pals’ attention from television coverage of the eponymous victim to himself, to “Charles Magezi-Akiiki/Daphne Darling” by Olesya Mishechkina, a story in which obscure and often inaccurate word choices detract from the reading experience.  It’s set in a store.

Nicholas Hogg’s “Paradise” starts promisingly as an honest look at the life of a Kenyan woman who becomes a pool hustler cum prostitute after being left destitute because of the death of her unfaithful husband from AIDS.  The writing is nicely understated but pulls no punches.  Mercy Lang’s viewpoint is told in third person, but we also get first person contributions from her two children, whom she inadvertently abandons to live on the streets while searching for a better life in Germany.   Unfortunately, the story then proceeds to require two suspensions of disbelief that were beyond my capacity.  If you can swallow the first one, which involves ignoring some harsh facts, you’ll probably have no difficulty with the second, but I couldn’t manage either.  A shame, as prostitution seems to be a subject many writers cannot approach without a rose-tinted glow.

Wes Lee’s “The Dead Don’t Do That Kind of Thing” is a wry look at grief, whereas Laura Heggie’s “Avoiding the Issue”, after an incomprehensible start, seems to be attempting to find humour in the protagonist’s attempts to avoid being bothered by the homeless.  A miss for me.  Fans of Marilyn Monroe may enjoy Lee Joans’ “Vaselino”, although I found I didn’t have enough knowledge of the background to fill in the gaps in the narrative.

Overall, a competent compilation with generally decent reading, and stand-out stories in “Kid in a Well” and Arthur Allan’s blackly comic all-at-sea tale “Atlantic Drift”.

[[Review originally posted at GUD Magazine by Debbie Moorhouse; see the first comment there for how to win our review copy!]]

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