Friday, 16 January 2015

Wrote for Luck by DJ Taylor

Reviewer: JJ Marsh

What We Thought: An unusual collection of stories which offers a zoom lens onto a set of human interactions. Reading these pieces is like seeing pictures from an Edward Hopper exhibition. Evocative, melancholy and mere slices of experience, so the reader finishes each story curious about the background, the characters and what happened next.

Because in the stories themselves, nothing much happens at all. Yet the atmosphere, the routine, the sense of entrapment and stasis evoke the same dreamlike feeling of wondering how on earth you got yourself into this situation. Habitual relationships, lukewarm likes and dislikes, aberrant behaviour, muted earthquakes and bored affection takes the characters through dinner parties, picnics, academia, village life, disappointments, awkward family gatherings and weather forecasts.

From the first story, Some Versions of Pastoral, these stories have a visual quality. Waiting for their guests in a Suffolk garden, we meet ‘Mr and Mrs Underwood, who, proud and statuesque, like the elders of some benighted South American tribe, finally discovered in their Amazonian bolt-hole’.

Taylor has a gift at inhabiting a head, regardless of age, gender or nationality, with such fullness the reader’s loyalty is absolute. In the title story, Wrote for Luck, you’re Lucy, desperate to shake up suburban Wimbledon. You wince all the way through Birthday Lunch, feel capable of subtle savagery throughout Blow-Ins and grow bitter in Wonderland.

The stories are crafted with deceptive skill, so much so you think you could be overhearing a conversation in a coffee shop. Curiosity engendered by the situations, natural dialogue and plausibility of characters make these vignettes feel uncomfortably familiar. Like a master chef, Taylor’s brilliance is extracting the essence by reduction.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Kazuo Ishiguro, Lorrie Moore, Annie Proulx

Avoid if you dislike: a lack of action, introspection, ennui

Ideal accompaniments: Crudités with a selection of dips, chilled white port and Philip Glass

Genre: Short stories

Available from Amazon 
Available from Galley Beggar Press

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