Recommended Reading (4)

I am aware that I haven’t posted any fiction pieces recently, save several Twitter fiction pieces back in December. It’s not that I don’t want to—I have been writing new short stories, but I’ve submitted all of them to various literary magazines. Hopefully, fingers crossed, I can subsequently post links to my published stories if accepted; so until then, please be patient and enjoy the stories I’ve previously posted!

So for want of fiction on my blog, I’ll be recommending two stories—one short and one long—both peculiar yet undeniably intriguing in their own ways.

1. ‘The Letter‘ by Luke Gittos (20 November 2014 / fiction)

‘I want to sex you. Sex me?’

So begins Luke Gittos’s story of a mother’s disorientating encounter with the reality of adolescence. Sharp and astute, this witty piece made me chuckle while keeping me in suspense, all in the span of a mere 500+ words. Some of the run-on sentences (one of them lasting a stellar 9-lines) are just brilliant. Being so short, it’s understandably difficult to talk about in detail without giving anything away. But then again, it’s only 500+ words—what are you waiting for? Read and be amused, be entertained, be impressed by an ingenious concept well-delivered.

About the author: Luke Gittos is law editor at spiked (Britain’s first online-only current-affairs magazine), a solicitor practising criminal law and convenor of the London Legal Salon.

2. ‘Kilifi Creek‘ by Lionel Shriver (25 November 2013 / fiction)

© Eric Ogden / Trunk

© Eric Ogden / Trunk

Winner of the BBC National Short Story Award 2014, this short story about a gap-year traveller’s near-death experience in a Kenyan river won £15,000. Yes, you heard me right. A short story won £15,000. W-what?

Is Shriver’s story that good? Hmm, arguably, not really. Some adjectives that could be used to describe it: pretentious, overindulgent, turgid, etc. all of which, to a certain extent, I agree with. But there’s something about ‘Kilifi Creek’, particularly the ending (which obviously I won’t give away), which caused it to linger in my mind long afterwards.

As Liana reflects on her near-death experience, she considers possible reasons for her survival, as well as lessons she might have learned:

Oh, she’d considered the episode, and felt free to conclude that she had overestimated her swimming ability, or underestimated the insidious, bigger-than-you powers of water. She could also sensibly have decided that swimming alone anywhere was tempting fate. She might have concocted a loftier version, wherein she had been rescued by an almighty presence who had grand plans for her—grander than marketing. But that wasn’t it.

She admits all of these interpretations would merely have been ‘plastered on top’ what was really important:

The message was bigger and dumber and blunter than that, and she was a bright woman, with no desire to disguise it.

Yet she still seemingly does.

So what is this message? Liana later reflects:

At some point there was no almost. That had always been the message.

Beneath the façade of Shriver’s grandiloquent prose is a poignant and affecting (though understandably reluctant) reflection on the nature of life: that life is short, life is unexpected, life is entirely frail and fragile and liable to crumble, or even cease, at any moment in time. We have the tendency to overshadow the difficulties of biting reality by keeping our minds busy, constantly occupied with other things—but life’s vulnerability remains, always, underlying, brooding, waiting, waiting.

The question then is: what will we do, or rather what are we to do, when being unable to run any farther, are forced to face life-changing (in all senses of that word) situations?

About the author: Lionel Shriver is an American author of 11 novels, including the acclaimed We Need to Talk About Kevin, winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2005.

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