I was hooked instantly by this collection of stories. Each one, layered with dialogue, let me witness from the inside.
The first story, In the Current Climate, begins:
“A few minutes before I was due to take my midmorning break, four strangers walked into the office.”
What follows is set in an accountancy department that faces its own audit. In just over seven pages the story manages to be sudden, sinister, deliciously intimate, and to leave a sense of guilt.
In the second story, Debts, Vicky Grut takes us inside a kitchen on a Saturday morning. It is a crowded space of comings and goings, of conversations that give just enough to make sense of it all. It felt to me like a glimpse through a window on to the hectic realities of a few hours in a family’s weekend.
“Charity believes her sister is being knocked about, but she pretends she isn’t sure because otherwise she would have to do something about it.”
Downsizing takes us back to an office, and then Mistaken to a department store and a theft. Next, in Stranger, we are in a suburban garden to examine belonging, and after that, in Escape Artist, we share a stormy relationship with two young creatives.
The middle story in the collection is the one from which the book takes its title Live Show, Drink Included. For this we are on a day trip to London, with a couple who decide to venture outside their comfort zone. The bizzare situation highlights the everyday completeness of their love.
“Neal reached out and hooked the hair behind one of her gigantic ears. He felt idiotically happy.”
In A Minor Disorder (South Africa 1956) Vicky Grut lands us in the Karoo in South Africa with two young travellers:
“They had been driving all day and by now they were in an endless, undulating sort of chicken-scratching landscape. There was so much space with so little in it that Stefan became afraid.”
Then back to the world of publishing with Saucers of Sweets.
A short scene on a bus, Stranger, follows this, and then we are taken a little further away with Rich (Italy 1980), and afterwards brought back to Visitors and the lonely world of a single mother obsessed with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. This was the only story I found a little harder to pin down.
The last two tales are set in Wales.
The first of these, On the Way to Church, is a portrait of a marriage and a mining town. In just a few pages I got a powerful sense of the town’s hardships, and of a couple in trouble. The revelation at the end somehow manages to both shatter and sharpen the focus.
Gentle pages end the book with a vigil beside the bed of a dying, elderly woman. We see her through the eyes of her daughter-in-law, as the younger woman takes her turn to be there during the last days. The words have a slow breath here, and take us quietly to the book’s end.
“We’ve been down to the Valley where there is no light and no glory. It stops you in your tracks. It’s like nothing I could ever have imagined.”
I’m not sure which of the stories is my favourite, but I do know that for me this is one of those rare books that I would quite happily read again.
How did I come across it?
Vicky Grut, the author, was my creative writing teacher last year, at CitiLit in London. During the course she mentioned that she had been shortlisted for the Edge Hill Prize: “… awarded annually by Edge Hill University for excellence in a published single author short story collection”.
Of course I bought the book, and meant to read it all … at last I have, and I loved it.
The book is published as a paperback by Holland Park Press, London.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2020