Roses in December by Matthew de Lacey Davidson

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Roses in December by Matthew de Lacey Davidson

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A collection of short stories and flash fiction - from the macabre to the Gothic. Some are shocking, some ironic, but there is an underlying sympathy in these stories that makes them hard to resist.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 126 Date: January 2018
Publisher: First Edition Design Publishing
ISBN: 978-1506905518

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Roses in December is a collection of twenty-two short stories. And when I say short, I mean short, with each just a few pages long and some brushing the flash fiction genre, such is the brevity. I think the shorter the story, the harder it is to write and the more difficult the task of engaging, then satisfying, the reader. So it is to the immense credit of Matthew de Lacey Davidson that I sighed in appreciation many times while reading. He has a good sense of which moments of the human experience to capture in order to make the point he wants to make. Some highlights:

I particularly enjoyed A Thousand Words, which is about postmortem photographic portraiture in Victorian times. I was teased with gruesome but came away with kindness and compassion. It made me smile despite the subject matter. This story also exemplifies the thought and care which has gone into the whole volume - the acknowledgement tells me that the story actually numbers 999 words and the address used is a real-life cemetery. I love this context to the story - it lends an extra layer of intimacy. And I'm glad Mrs Muller got her photograph.

An ease with dialogue helps make many of these stories flow. Dialogue lets many writers down and, when done poorly in a short story particularly, can let the whole thing down. It's never clunky or awkward or used as an exposition tool in Roses in December. Your Opinion Matters is a perfect example - this is a story in which Ingrid, a hapless reporter, is dispatched to get vox pops on the important topic of Schrödinger's theory of the simultaneity of states of sub-atomic particles. You try writing pithy dialogue around that! But, let's face it, if you were Ingrid, you'd be expecting some pithy responses if you had been sent to ask Joe Public for an opinion about this - "And... CUT!!!"

Honour Thy Father and Thy Mother is deeply, deeply sad. It's a story about abusive parents and told by their traumatised daughter. It's flash fiction - short and brutal, written as a stream of consciousness in a moment of crisis. It's hard to read but it's impossible to ignore and your reaction as a reader is mirrored by the social worker and police officer who witness this pivotal moment of discovery and arrest. How would you react to a child at last able to relate such a horror to an outsider? Would you, too, freeze? This story made me cry.

The style is elegant with carefully crafted sentences and precision in vocabulary. All the stories are a pleasure to read if you are a lover of language. And, while the themes are sometimes macabre, the authorial voice comes with empathy and compassion, always. To write about the awkward and the grotesque and the sad without lapsing into easy condemnation or mockery is what makes Roses in December somewhat different to many short story collections in this genre. There are no cheap shots disguised as twists at the end. These stories observe the trials of life with a great deal of tenderness. And I think it speaks to the humanity in all of us. We would do well to listen.


If you are a fan of short stories with a macabre undertone, you might also enjoy Letters to Lovecraft : Eighteen Whispers to the Darkness by Jesse Bullington (editor). We also enjoyed Strange Weather by Joe Hill - four novellas linked by the theme of cataclysmic weather.

You can read more about Matthew de Lacey Davidson here.

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