Regular readers may have noticed that when reviewing books by Irish writers, I often mention they contribute to The Stinging Fly, a Dublin-based biannual magazine which publishes short fiction. From Wendy Erskine to Nicole Flattery, Kevin Barry to Louise Kennedy whose brilliant Trespasses was shortlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, their contributors are a roll call of excellence. Hardly surprising then that when I spotted its editor was due to publish a new collection, I jumped at the chance to review it. Thomas Morris’ Open Up comprises five stories, all worth a mention.
This won’t do. It just won’t do. He tells himself to shape up, to focus, to really try his best. With his mind, he keeps pulling the ball towards the Northern Ireland end.
Wales, the brief opening piece, sees a ten-year-old boy taken to his first big football match by the father he hasn’t seen in three months, convinced his magical abilities will save the day. Satisfyingly, his father’s life pessimistic life lesson will later be proved wrong.
In Aberkariad, the longest story in the collection and certainly the most unusual, Morris explores parenthood, sex, love and gender through a family of seahorses as the father waits for his long-lost love who’s turned her back on the brood he’s birthed.
Bullied at work, fed up with endless rejection for being short, Michael summons his courage for an approach that could backfire horribly in Little Wizard which leaves us on a cliff edge.
Passenger sees Geraint on holiday with his beloved girlfriend, desperate for the intimacy she longs for, finally free of the litany of anxious self-doubt that loops in his head.
In Birthday Teeth a goth on his way to his long-planned treat remembers the woman who helped turn his and his mother’s lives around until one day he answers her phone.
Sitting on the steps of a public building in Old Town, Dubrovnik, he watches other tourists walking by, wondering how everyone else is so at ease.
Narrated in the first person, all five of these stories share the painful dislocation of young males who can’t quite make the emotional connections they long for. Some are funny – one of my favourites was the poignant yet playful Aberkariad – others such as Passenger, my second stand out piece, are suffused with a raw sadness. An enjoyable collection but one I liked rather than loved although my expectations for this one had been sky-high.
Faber & Faber: London 9780571317042 224 pages Hardback (read via NetGalley)