As a reader there are times when I wish to relax and be entertained by a book. Perhaps a twisty thriller or a work of quality crime fiction will suit. On other occasions I look for a different type of analeptic, to have my prejudices challenged and discover a previously unappreciated point of view. The independent presses provide a rich seam to mine in my search for thought provoking literary works. For the short story form, of which I am particularly fond, there are also literary journals.
I recently discovered Riptide. This excellent journal publishes anthologies of new short fiction by both established and emerging writers, stories with an undercurrent. They are due to release their eleventh collection in July and I was delighted when they agreed to send me a copy to review.
The theme is ‘Carpe Diem’ and all are previously unpublished tales. They explore relationships, the distances between people who live side by side, chances taken or missed, decisions that characterise lives.
A number of the stories have a slightly surreal quality, playing with expectations and perceptions to make their point. Others are more nuanced, the action limited to allow the reader to focus on thought processes and expectations.
There is much to ponder. What came across strongly was that one should never stop trying in life; to stop trying is to stop living. At whatever stage one may be, change is always lurking. Living too carefully precludes adventures.
In ‘You Must Change Your Life’ the protagonist realises how much they have failed to notice and appreciate throughout their now dwindling existence. They look back at key events which passed them by:
“This should have been a moment of awakening for me, a bright light or a loud noise or a burst of celestial skywriting, but I tapped the snooze alarm and slept through it.”
In ‘The Volcano’ the protagonist narrates his failure to maintain relationships long term as others demand he changes his behaviour to please them, something which eventually seems not worth maintaining:
“Adjusting isn’t hard. It’s finding a reason to keep the adjustments in place that is the tricky part.”
In ‘Letter from a Tortoise’ a mother writes to her son’s teacher asking that she not tell the child that he is special. She puts the case that most live a life where others are not interested in what they have to say, that achievements will be un-noteworthy, choices limited, and if her son considers himself special he will suffer ridicule.
‘The Secret Carer’ is a wonderful depiction of ill matched lovers. The caustic humour oscillates between their desire to give the relationship a chance and the repulsion they feel, all wrapped up in socially acceptable rhetoric that eventually cracks. It includes a scene at a theatre performance which the man enjoys but his date is impatient to escape:
“She wondered what her companion saw in the performer […] the content of the performance was so tediously and humorlessly self-referential – or reverential, given that the woman assumed the audience cared as much as she did about her failure to win government grants for her work.”
‘Walking in the English Countryside’ brings to life the excitement a married man, who has always sought an uncomplicated life, feels when he experiences the frisson of future possibilities offered by a woman at a party:
“He loves his wife. He does. He loves her as much as anyone could love anyone at this stage of a relationship.”
He must decide if he is to take a growing flirtation to the next stage, thereby endangering all he has valued to this point.
In ‘Muerte en Mexico’ a young man fails to act on his desires and wonders thereafter what course his life would have taken had he found the courage to speak to a beautiful stranger.
These stories offer snapshots of day to day crises and potential turning points. There is pathos, humour and an understanding of what it means to be an individual within a convention filled world. I recognised these people, empathised with their plights.
The writing styles are mixed but the quality is high. A stimulating, satisfying read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by Riptide Journal.