A collection of 15 short and rough-edged stories, first published in the U.K.
The contributing writers were asked to pen stories that would make good travel reading. The editor favors first-person narrators, some of whom just want to vent. There’s the female attendant in an underground restroom (“In Attendance,” by Paula Rawsthorne), who, after losing home and husband, lives illegally in a supply closet; the tale’s grimness feels self-indulgent. Almost as grim but much more lively is the Asian-British cab driver’s situation in M.Y. Alam’s “Taxi Driver”; he’s working in a part of Yorkshire unsettled by the arrest of terror suspects. The young widow in Tania Hershman’s “On a Roll,” rather than bemoaning her fate, actually has a story to tell, and it’s a good one, about a dream on a transatlantic flight and its outcome in a Vegas casino. Another engaging story, the cream of the crop, is Sophie Hannah’s “Always Swing Upright.” Sonia is traveling by train to give a lecture on happiness; her eventful journey will reveal that, for her, the greatest rush comes from an act of pure folly. Far less successful are the portraits of a lesbian, consumed by airport angst, waiting for the return of her lover (“Missing You,” by Rosa Ainley), and the addled museum ticket clerk with a whimsical project (“Aubrey,” by Alexis Clements). The third-person narratives don’t fare well either. The meeting between biological father and the son he gave up for adoption in “Side Exit,” by Daithidh MacEochaidh, is too heavy-handed, as is Nathan Ramsden’s “The Categories of Ernest Bookbinder,” about a man headed for the asylum. The husband and wife whose marriage is breaking up in Penny Aldred’s “It’s a Hard Rain,” meanwhile, are too generic. Hats off, though, to Anthony Cropper; his very short “Love of Fate,” almost all dialogue, is a perfect snapshot of a small boy and one of his mother’s lovers enjoying each other’s company.
There’s more chaff than wheat in this uneven book.