An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It, by Jessie Greengrass, is a collection of twelve short stories exploring the psychological impact of pivotal experiences on each protagonist. Consideration is given to why the characters acted as they did in the situations presented, and how this has affected their subsequent development. The tone is measured and piercingly honest, acknowledging that lives, particularly within close relationships, do not always mirror the oft vaunted loyalties and care expected to be publicly portrayed.
The title story is an account of thoughtless, wanton destruction, told factually and with acceptance of misconduct. The reasoning given makes no attempt at justification. This is personal reportage rather than an entreaty for absolution.
In On Time Travel the narrator notes that the death of a parent caused grief due to resultant change but also relief as family life had been strained. The reactions of others caused greater ongoing issues than the loss itself.
In The Comfort of the Dead a husband ponders if he ever really knew what his wife desired. He assumed she was content as he had never dwelt on her complaints. His quiet, self-contained routine served him well. If this caused others to drift away he harbours few regrets.
Some Kind of Safety considers how life would be for those who fled to safety underground due to the threat of armaggedon. Unable to know what was happening above, would they risk contamination to put an end to a fractious incarceration?
The tales include lives made endurable through alternate-life fantasies, or by declining to acknowledge how others likely felt. There are reflections on the aspirations that enable continuation in a less than perfect reality. Life is coped with by creating personal fictions.
Characters retreat from life when control is wrested from them only to find that the world keeps turning and the experience has changed them too. They must find ways to face loneliness and quiet fears. Elements from their past shape what they are today.
There are stories set in the past and also the future. The human psyche seems little changed. A melancholy shadow pervades yet there remain glimmers of hopeful anticipation.
The author writes with a flowing acuity, crafting spare, consummate sentences. This collection showcases an intense new talent. It is also a terrific read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, John Murray.