18 October 2007
Mitzi Szereto (Ed)
Sounding worryingly like a manual for angry Bobbitt types, this anthology of short stories looks at ways of serving up the cold dish of revenge.
Men don’t come out looking too rosy, and boors, cheaters, liars and leches are given just desserts by poison, sharp nail files or dogged scheming. Where it could sway into lemon-sucking spite, or a man-bashing orgy, the stories are tempered with a cheeky, wicked sense of humour that keeps the tone entertaining, rather than just plain embittered.
The range is enjoyable too, flipping from noir fiction to zombie fantasy. Umi Sinha’s thought-provoking floral prose in ‘Parvati’ takes the reader to post-colonial India where a maharajah gets jealous of a frisky monkey, and a few pages later, a downtrodden middle American married to a white trash slob is plotting ways of becoming a widow. This is an entertaining set of modern Tales of the Unexpected.
Getting Even: Revenge Stories (Serpent’s Tail)
8 May 2008
It’s safe to say this latest novel from Fifer John Burnside won’t be sparking a tourism boom on the east coast anytime soon. But his bleakly beautiful tale digs beneath the surface of the everyday to do what he does best, hunting out terrifying and comforting truths about what makes us tick. The fictional hell-hole of Innertown lives in the shadow of a disused chemical plant. It’s not clear what poisons were brewed up behind the factory walls, but the coastline is suffering a toxic hangover, where deformed animals and diseased humans crawl about their day-to-day existences. When schoolboys start disappearing, the local bobby seems suspiciously blasé, and a collective, paranoid finger is pointed at a reclusive weirdo hiding in the wasteland, writing love letters to a death row killer.
Burnside narrates his way around the grim backdrop of smalltown claustrophia and inertia through Leonard, a 15-year-old bookworm. A likeable, sensitive smartarse that knows exactly what it means when a teacher calls him a misanthrope, and quotes Molière right back at him, he’s full of the kind of precocious insight that makes him all the more aware of the nightmare life mapped out for him. Part coming-of-age drama, part sci-fi thriller, with a healthy dose of satisfyingly dark Scottish miserabilism, the themes of sin and redemption or death and the afterlife should make this as heavy as a wrecking ball, but Burnside’s too subtle and masterful with his language for that. In his hands, the doom and gloom becomes absorbing and eloquent.
Glister (Jonathan Cape)