A vivid mix of realism and fantasy (distinguished by editor Carter as “the gritty down-to-earth . . . [and work of] a profound metaphysical and fantastical bent”), in an engaging collection of prose poems, short stories, and novel excerpts by 26 young Scottish authors.
The briefer pieces (most less than a page long) are generally least impressive, partial exceptions being Jen Hadfield’s folklore-derived vignettes and Margaret Downie’s dreamy, imaginative “The Stone” and “Death.” Excerpts from longer works include Andrew Grieg’s offbeat examination of the wary mutual attraction between a young engineer and a tempestuous Western Islander (“Ammonia in Orkney”); Suhayl Saadi’s richly atmospheric look at immigrant South Asian street gangs (“Kings of the Dark House”); and Anne Donovan’s boisterous and delightful tale of an ordinary husband and father smitten with Eastern wisdom, narrated in thick, racy Glaswegian dialect (“Buddha Da”). Nothing else in the volume equals the wry hilarity of Donovan’s spirited little masterpiece, but several of the stories per se are not to be missed. Realism is well served by Edward Clapp’s “Nineteen Things I Remember About the West End of Glasgow,” the ruminations of a student who boards with a down-at-the-heels actress; Valerie Thornton’s sympathetic portrayal of a lonely motherless girl whose “ghost pets” insulate her from boys’ indifferent cruelty (“A Bird in the Hand”); and Tom Murray’s dramatization of the mingled guilt, sorrow and denial felt by an adolescent (“The Boy”) attending the funeral of his best (female) friend. Less conventional tales include Ali Smith’s annoyingly coy explication of how fictions develop (“The Universal Story”); Michael Faber’s astute look at the generation gaps that splinter a vacationing American family (“Vanilla-Bright Like Eminem”); and, notably, Linda Henderson’s contemporary fairy tale about a shepherd cursed with three “grotesque” daughters (“The Waters of Ulhava”).
Despite some pronounced highs and lows, a welcome gathering that showcases an unusually energetic and entertaining new literary culture.