In Carys Bray’s prize-winning collection of short stories the dark, painful and unexpectedly tender moments of family life are explored with forensic precision. I haven’t admired a single author collection as much since Claire Keegan’s Walk the Blue Fields.
Sweet Home is a stunning piece of work. Vividly written with a keen eye for the truth, no matter how uncomfortable that might be, and laced with humour, Bray cuts to the heart of the human condition in both prosaic and fantastical situations. A bereaved shop worker looks for a baby to borrow; laughter cloaks a mother’s tears when her daughter screams ‘I hate you’ in the public swimming pool, a lonely old woman slides towards dementia, a father’s irrational fears for his unborn child spiral out of control. These tales are moving, funny and insightful. A parent myself, I nodded in wry, silent recognition; I cried twice – quite a feat for a short story.
Although all seventeen tales embrace similar themes of love, loss and parenthood there’s a variety of narrative worlds. “The Ice Baby” and “Sweet Home” inhabit magical terrains, they read like folk or fairy stories, “Everything a Parent Needs to Know” is firmly rooted in the here and now of self-help books and parenting guides, and in “Bodies” we’re taken to a place where there is a right and a wrong kind of God.
Personal favourites include “Wooden Mum”, where the everyday frustration and hurt of a mother of an autistic son is drawn in moving detail, “The Rescue” in which an elderly father watches the saving of the Chilean miners on television, still hopeful that he might, one day, rescue his drug-addict son, and “Under Covers” in which the casual cruelty and insecurity of teenage girl is exposed as they watch a widowed neighbour struggle to retrieve her bra, which is ‘spread-eagled in the hedge like a monstrous, albino bat.’ And that’s another joy: the language itself.
These are poignant, involving stories, beautifully crafted; Carys Bray has a bright future ahead. Breath-taking. Buy it here.