I’d heard good things about Nicole Flattery’s Show Them a Good Time well before publication, not in a shouty in-your-face, can’t-get-away-from-it kind of way but enough to snag my attention. Then I spotted Jon McGregor’s and Sally Rooney’s comments, both clearly smitten with Flattery’s writing. I’m still not entirely sure what to make of it but her collection certainly made an impression.
Show Them a Good Time comprises ten stories – some quite short, others lengthier and one which, at over ninety pages, is almost on its way to becoming a novella. ‘Abortion, A Love Story’ sees two young women, students in their final year, collaborate in writing a play staged for just one night before they find their way to the unemployment office. In ‘Not the End Yet’ a woman dates a series of unsatisfactory men in a basement restaurant as surly teenage waiters look on. ‘Parrot’ is about a stepmother who feels uneasy in her role, fielding phone calls from her stepson’s expensive Parisian school about his behaviour. In ‘You’re Going to Forget Who I Am Before I Forget Who You Are’ a children’s author on tour talks to her pregnant sister who’s troubled by her sudden inability to make small talk. Then her memory dims further. ‘Track’ sees a young woman fleeing depression, falling into an affair with a comedian whose career is in decline, his only solace the laughing track his mother gave him. These are my favourites in a collection which explores relationships, gender roles and trying to find a place for yourself in the world.
Flattery’s stories are hard to do justice to in a few lines. Puzzling, sometimes disconcerting and a little off the wall, they’re oddly captivating, both funny and sad. All are written from the perspective of young women: men tend to appear as bit-parts, often not very flattering ones. Flattery’s tone is sardonic and a little subversive. Her female characters are cleverly observed, vivid despite their feelings of not fitting into the world. Lucy and Natasha in ‘Abortion, A Love Story’ reminded me of the eponymous Paulina and Fran in their mismatched friendship. As is so often the case with short stories, it was the writing that had me scribbling quotes right, left and centre. Here’s a smattering of favourite lines:
As the night progressed, the realisation invariably arrived that this man was not a package at all: he was an envelope, an envelope with a bill in it, an envelope she, quite frankly, wanted to put in a drawer and forget all about (Not the End Yet)
Her mind felt like a long trailer carrying a number of cars; if one car went they would all go, scatter across the motorway, cause carnage. (Abortion, A Love Story)
Athough she was alone, she didn’t feel alone, she felt like a part of a large pantomime dragon made-up of other women, a long line of them, moving and swaying invisibly through the city. (Abortion, A Love Story)
This was the end of her first relationship and she was determined to enjoy it. (Abortion, A Love Story)
We were both long acquainted with disappointment and the joys of being used (Show Them a Good Time)
She moved up and down the staircase, cheapening the place with the cut of her clothes, searching for her soul at a frantic pace that suggested she was rummaging through a demolition site for the remains of her belongings rather than spending a pleasant few hours in a museum (Parrot)
She had been a bit tired when she entered art college, but dropping out exhausted her (Parrot)
I’ll leave you with one final quote from ‘Abortion, A Love Story:
‘I’m not sure,’ Lucy said, ‘I’m not sure. I don’t know if I get it’
I’m not sure I do, either, but it was fun trying.