Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Fiction Desk: Separations

Separations: Stories from The Fiction Desk 10. Edited by Rob Redman. The Fiction Desk Ltd., 2016

Separations at Goodreads
Image result for Separations fiction deskThe Fiction Desk website

Overall rating:     7/10

The introduction to the tenth Fiction Desk anthology links the title thematically to the individual stories, as well as politically with the recent Brexit phenomena, and more than most TFD issues, aside from the Ghost Story volumes, the theme of this one is appropriate to the individual stories.

The top three stories of the 2015 ghost stories competition are included here. Though I was a little bummed that not all the finalists were included as one of my own stories was included in the group, the reasoning given not to have a separate issue of ghost tales in 2016 is totally understandable, and largely a good decision in terms of the publication. In terms of the top three stories included here, they are all strong stories, though I would order them differently, placing Mastrantone's "Home Solutions for Mould" (second place) at the top, followed by Alex Clark's "Poor Billy" (third place), and then Anabel Graf's "Soup--Condensed" (first place).

Also included are the top three 2015 Flash Fiction Competition and the top two stories of the Newcomer's Prize.

Overall Number 10 is a good entry for The Fiction Desk, as it presents consistently strong stories.

Poor Billy by Alex Clark     7/10
Middle aged solicitor Maggie is staying temporarily at Brigham House where is partially invalid mother is living. While on the third floor corridor, sneaking out for smokes, she occasionally catches a glimpse of flashing red, but when she investigates there is nothing there. Her mother tells her of Billy, a young neglected boy who lived at Brigham house years before, and who used to wear a red coat as he played in the corridors.

The story is a fusion of character and place, and the two, particularly in the opening paragraphs, are well delineated. This is not a traditional ghost story, as the ghostly element is less spectral, but instead rests in the traces our pasts can leave behind. "Poor Billy" received third place in the 2015 ghost story competition, and is certainly worthy of the accolade. Though I like the winning story, I do prefer this one as the protagonist is more realized, and personally would have placed this story second.

Two Pounds, Six Ounces by Hannah Mathewson     7/10
During a major rainstorm, a woman arrives at a hospital to meet her brother, as they have decided to take their mother off of life support that night. Tragically, the power has gone out, and instead of staying with her mother, the woman helps take care of a newborn patient. Though my description makes the story appear too contrived, it isn't, and the story itself is quite powerful without being too sentimental. There are obvious connections between the birth-death cycle, and how fate manages to rescue us when we are trying to avoid something important.

This story received the issue's Writer's Award.

Renaissance Man by James Mitchell     7/10
An academic couple, a lecturer and a researcher, raise their son in isolation, sheltered from technology. Their hope is that he will discover the most basic of inventions, and move on to help build the future. Parents, in their hopes of helping to build a better future through their child, end up ruining the future of their child (or so we would suspect). A surprisingly strong piece of work.

The story received the 2016 Newcomer's Prize.

The History Lesson by Kate van der Borgh     6/10
A language instructor travels with her class through Italy as she tries to deal with a recent break-up. Many lessons are discussed, historical and personal, and there is a nice correlation between the petrified images of frozen volcanic eruption victims and the final image of our protagonist's unfortunate circumstances.

Beat the Brainbox by Mike Scott Thomson     6/10
The long-time winner of a trivia style game show faces losing his title to a man known infamously via an online viral video. Received second prize for the 2015 Flash Fiction Competition.

Two-timer by F. J. Morris     6/10
Released from prison on a new experimental program for a death he was made responsible for, a man takes makes his way through a throng of protesters toward his freedom. Received third place for the 2015 Flash Fiction Competition.

That Buzzing Inside My Head by Ren Watson     6/10
Convinced that the buzzing in his head is from something living in his ear, a man submerges himself in a water-filled tub to discover that a little man has been excavating inside his head. Winner of the 2015 Flash Fiction Competition.

Splitting Miles by Claire Parkin     7/10
A recently widowed woman begins to train for a marathon in memory for her deceased husband. Egged in by her also grieving daughter, through the training and race she begins to deal with her husband's death and mental collapse. Another strong emotional story, this one is well structured around a fictional training manual by the fictional Mindy Norkman, and reveals the story of Miles's deterioration in increments.

The story received second place in the 2016 Newcomer's Prize.

Soup, Condensed by Anabel Graff     7/10
A young teen discovers that her recently widowed grandmother has been storing the sounds of her life in empty tomato soup cans. The use of soup cans is appropriate as in the day of old these were stringed together and used by children as communication devices. This story received first place in the 2015 Fiction Desk Ghost Story Competition.

Home Solutions for Mould by S. R. Mastrantone     7/10
A couple struggles with the loss of their child. After nearly a year, the woman is concerned with the distance between herself and her husband, and begins to fiddle with the browser search history on his laptop.

The story is both effective and touching, one of the better stories I've read by Mastrantone. The ghost element is slight but present, and well presented in its slightness. Of the three ghost competition stories included in this volume, I would have awarded this one first place. It received second place in the 2015 ghost story competition.

Stay by David Frankel     6/10
Hollins searches for the dog that he had recently escaped his property. The search parallels the recent fleeing of his son, and the hard man finds it hard to accept that loss.

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