This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things by Naomi Wood: A debut short story collection

Cover image for This Is Why We Can't Have Nice ThingsI so enjoyed both Naomi Wood’s Bauhaus themed thriller The Hiding Game and Mrs Hemingway, a wry take on what it might have been like to be married to Ernest, that I jumped at the chance to read her short story collection. This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things comprises nine lengthy stories, all about women. As ever, I’ve picked out a few favourites.

They did not want to talk about our babies’ extinction. They wanted to sing ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’, over and over, though the farm would be ashes; the animals, charcoal; and the MacDonalds and their kiddiewinks, burnt in their beds.

Lesley, in Therapy sees a woman cut her maternity leave short, telling herself she’s bored and eager to get back to work; her erstwhile friend and colleague is given to tears and missing her baby but perhaps she’s not the one in most need of help. In the BBC Short Story Prize winning Comorbidities a night of intimacy offers a brief respite for a couple, one partner gripped by eco-terror for her children’s future, the other dealing with suicidal teenagers in his job, but perhaps filming it was ill-advised. Death at the Movies sees a director invade her muse’s privacy in pursuit of her own ambition, defiantly facing the consequences, already plotting her revenge. In Wedding Day five-year-year-old Paola’s mother wonders if her ex will keep to the deal she made with him to return their daughter to her by bedtime, well aware of her unreasonableness. Deborah begins to eye up her neighbour as lockdown’s claustrophobic tedium stretches her marriage no matter how lucky she tells herself she is in Flatten the Curve.

In my life, I had always been a good woman, controlling what it was I wanted. But recently, I had started to notice my bad energy, and I began to follow it, wondering where it would take me.

Each of the stories in this collection is told from the point of view of women, all mothers or pregnant. Many explore work life balance, the stresses and strains on relationships and the experience of parenting in the modern world. Some of Wood’s women relish behaving badly and there’s a good deal of dry humour to enjoy. Five is a good favourite hit rate, and there’s only one dud in this collection, set on a scripted reality TV set which includes dinosaurs, but while I enjoyed Wood’s stories as I was reading them, I was left slightly underwhelmed and can’t quite put my finger on why. Thanks to her previous books, expectations were sky high which, perhaps, was the problem. Should she publish another collection, I’m sure I’ll read it but I’m hoping there’s a novel in the offing.

Phoenix Books London 9781399615891 256 pages Hardback (read via NetGalley)

17 thoughts on “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things by Naomi Wood: A debut short story collection”

  1. I’m interested in what it takes to be married to Mr Hemmingway and I’m also interested in relishing our bad behaviour; that’s got me thinking about my own notion of bad behaviour, it’s such a big question for polite women! I’m intrigued now to read this.

    1. I think this collection will appeal to you! Mrs Hemingway is very much about the three wives and their relationship with each other rather than their husband which is what made it so enjoyable for me.

  2. On my review pile for April — looking forward to it. I’ve read both her novels as well. I’ve been rereading The Paris Wife for book club, but it only reminds me that Mrs Hemingway is better.

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