I received a review copy of this wonderful collection of short stories recently. Here are my thoughts. Some of the authors I know personally, so I’ve withheld opinion on their work (though they’re brilliant, of course!).
Intelligent, Quirky Pot Pourri of Short Fiction from Exciting Small Press
From the acerbic, intelligent and often hilarious editors’ introduction (or parody of a rant as they prefer to call it), I had a strong feeling that I was going to like this collection of unapologetically literary short stories from Unthank Books. Unthology No.3 did not disappoint; in fact, it surpassed expectation.
That’s not to say I loved each and every story, I didn’t; some I found impenetrable and baffling (and maybe this is a good thing) but it’s fair to say that they are all well-crafted, innovative and beautifully written. Broad in scope and style there should be something to suit a variety of tastes. Like all great short fiction many of the stories manage to convey an entire life in a handful of pages. Sarah Evans’ Terms and Conditions explores the meaning of fatherhood in an achingly beautiful, moving portrait of a cuckolded husband’s struggle to love the offspring who may or may not be his – ‘…like forgiveness, love could not be delivered on a promise.’ Sharon Zink investigates the aftershocks of infidelity in a dysfunctional, co-dependent relationship in Paradise and in AJ Ashworth’s The Monolith a mysterious column absorbs a man torn between his ex-wife and new lover. Common themes include the intricacies and fragility of sexual relationships, lost love, jealousy and rivalry, and settings span the globe, from Japan to Key West.
Editor Ashley Stokes’ novelette, Trans-Neptune, sits at the heart of the collection. It is an erudite, witty meditation on emotional dyslexia, breakdown and obsession, and the damage inflicted on a relationship as a result. William, a man for whom ‘deep space contact was less scary than eye contact’, is so preoccupied with the outer reaches of our Solar System and the discovery of a new planet he is blind to more earthly matters: frustrated, regretful and desperate for attention his wife is voyaging outside the gravitational pull of their marriage. But this does the work a disservice – it’s so much more than this. Richly textured it can be read over and over.
There are lyrical tales reminiscent of Toni Morrison and Claire Keegan, like Angela Readman’s elegiac Before the Song and John Nicolson’s mystical The Ringing Stone, and from the sublime David Rose thought-provoking, quirky narratives concerned with art appreciation for blind people, and a recording engineer’s efforts to protect the reputation of a musician in slow decline. Many of the authors will be familiar to readers of the short form, though there’s plenty of new talent to discover, like Debz Hobbs-Wyatt and Sarah Dobbs; Unthank publish her debut novel, Killing Daniel, next month.
Unthology No. 3 is choc-a-block full of entertaining, unconventional and sexy reads. They will make you laugh, cry and think. Some might have you throwing the book at the wall; all will provoke a reaction. This is the first collection from the Norwich-based house that I have read, though it certainly won’t be the last. There are benefits to being slow to discover new publishers – I don’t have to wait for No. 4, there are Unthologies one and two to catch.