Short fiction from the author of The Wolf Border (2015), shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
In this diverse collection of stories, Hall depicts ordinary people confronting extreme circumstances. In “Case Study 2,” a social worker’s own inability to have a child complicates her attempts to help a boy rescued from a bizarre commune. A young woman’s fear of heights gives her new insights into an unfortunate relationship in “Wilderness.” When the title character in “Evie” develops an insatiable need for sweets, alcohol, and sex, her husband has to decide whether this is the end of their rather boring marriage or its salvation. A few stories are explicitly dystopian. “Later His Ghost,” for example, is set in a world decimated by extreme weather. “One in Four” is a brief, epistolary piece about a pandemic, and “Theatre 6” is a chilling—and timely—depiction of a society in which saving the life of a pregnant woman in distress can be dangerous. These stories showcase Hall’s thematic ambition and formal skill. She’s adept at matching voice to narrative, and her language is inventive and expressive without being a distraction; more often than not, she finds just the right words for entirely unfamiliar situations. All the author’s strengths are evident in “Mrs. Fox”—an award-winning story and the best in this volume—in which a woman called Sophia turns into a canid. The fact that Hall offers no naturalistic reason or magical explanation for this metamorphosis is intensely satisfying. It’s a pleasure to be transported to a world where this sort of thing just happens, and watching as Sophia’s husband adjusts to this new reality suggests that we already live in a world where, maybe, this sort of thing just happens. Readers familiar with Angela Carter’s work might recognize this as a contemporary, suburban “The Tiger’s Bride.”
Hall finds the weirdness in everyday life and makes the strange feel quotidian.