Some Possible Solutions by Helen Phillips
|Some Possible Solutions by Helen Phillips|
|Category: Short Stories|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: Perhaps a little patchier than one might have expected, this collection of shorts still has enough about it that other writers would be using half of it for their 'career best' selections...|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 224||Date: August 2017|
|Publisher: Pushkin Press|
|External links: Author's website|
Picture a world where you, a new mother, move to a town where you slowly start to realise that every other woman seems a replica of you – dressing and doing as you do. Consider a place where you have a perfect other half – most literally – but it's only to be found on an alien planet. Or how about the woman who suddenly finds she can see everything and everyone else alive as having no skin, just organs, tissue and bone as if everyone was having a Gunther von Hagens plastination job? A lot of these stories are hard to summarise without dropping into the voice of the Twilight Zone narration, but they're not specifically genre works – they're just further examples of this author's unsettling look at the bizarre elements of life.
We start with a great look at a world bearing some of the industrialised officialdom of her latest novel, The Beautiful Bureaucrat – but here it considers a life where you can learn the day and date of your death. If this author stands out for anything – and trust me, she can stand out – it's this neo-Kafka feel, where a form or data or suchlike can try and summarise your lot. But I also enjoyed it when characters – generally women, on these pages – were allowed to break out and live contrary to others for a while. We get a woman finding a window of exuberance at the end of a boring dinner party, and two women leaving a knocking joint to find different destinies on a futuristic fruit farm.
The book's not all a success – I found all of the two-sided entries to be empty of meaning, and one piece here is impossible to even be sure of how it's to be read, let alone what it might mean. But this experimentation, nipping into genre writing, exploring the longer edges of flash fiction, being ever distinctive – all are reasons why so much of the contents here have won some prize or other, courtesy of whichever magazine was granted first publication in the past.
Beyond that bureaucracy element, the strongest factor here is motherhood, and failing to connect with a family – from the Stepfordian wife, we get another woman with a disabled sister in a story set all too gallingly in the here and now, and another who thinks her children are aliens. These are definitely on the strong side, and make up for any lack elsewhere in clarity – even if at times I found some endings to be a little too awkward for my taste.
We also get an author who is a great fan of having her characters use the phrase et cetera. And while that's an odd thing to stand out, I can nick it for my final comment – there is enough here that really hits the target, meaning I would definitely be open to reading Ms Phillips again and again and so on etc etc ad infinitum.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
I Am The Brother Of XX by Fleur Jaeggy and Gini Alhadeff (translator) also focuses on family in its snappy, dark pieces.
You can read more book reviews or buy Some Possible Solutions by Helen Phillips at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Some Possible Solutions by Helen Phillips at Amazon.com.
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