The inner lives of Londoners are revealed bit by tantalizing bit in this ethereal collection by Scottish novelist Kennedy (Creative Writing/Univ. of Warwick; The Blue Book, 2013, etc.)
It’s sometimes hard to know what to expect from these loosely themed meditations on love, loss, conflict and the discord between one’s heart’s desires and the disgraceful reality of the real world. There is humor where a reader might least expect, though little of it indeed, and an undercurrent of raw emotion that could make readers uncomfortable. It’s been said before that Kennedy’s stories read like poems, and while that’s true, what rings in the silence after is that uncomfortable feeling of listening to your own internal monologue, the Talking Heads moment of, “Well, how did I get here?” “Baby Blue” is probably the collection’s most indelible story, the portrait of an ill introvert who, lost in the whirlwind of a new city, ducks into a sex shop where she's accosted by a clerk who practically forces her to buy something just to get away. Sometimes the stories that start aggressively—“Because It’s a Wednesday” begins with the decidedly nonpoetic line, “[b]ecause it’s a Wednesday, he’s shagging Carmen”—reveal themselves as meditations on the balance of power in any given relationship. “The Effects of Good Government on the City” is a panicky affair, recounting an awful weekend in Blackpool between a PTSD-injured veteran and the woman he’s convinced doesn’t love him anymore. Kennedy also shines when she writes about love from different points of view. In “Run Catch Run,” we meet a boy whose estranged father shows up on the doorstep with a new puppy in a plain attempt to buy the child’s affections. But the emotionally mature kid won’t even give the pup a name because he knows his mother will just yank it away out of revenge. “It couldn’t last,” he thinks. “Not this. There was no way it ever would have. Never mind.”
Sometimes love is not all you need. Oh well, whatever, never mind.