Above the Fat, by Thomas Chadwick, is a collection of eleven short stories, a few of which are just a page or two in length. They tell of people inhabiting places where they do not feel satisfied or comfortable. They offer snapshots of lives that have not panned out as once envisaged.
The opening story, A train passes through the Ruhr region in the early morning, recounts a journey as a list of items or places viewed along the way. There is little commentary, although what there is had me laughing out loud by the end.
This segues effortlessly into Birch which tells the story of Stuart who is managing a timber yard in the late 1990s. Having inherited the well established business from his father, Stuart gradually instigates changes. There is a whisper of tension running throughout as the reader awaits his downfall. Not everything happens as expected.
And the Glass Cold Against His Face plays out over five minutes during which a window cleaner clings to a ledge eighty floors up from street level. Discovering he is not alone precipitates several awkward exchanges. It is a scenario that is unlikely to end well.
Purchase presents the difficulties inherent in finding clothes or food that meet expectations. Customers accept such disappointments, complaining to each other later. The couple involved cannot seem to navigate seemingly simple decisions yet readers will recognise what is depicted.
Stan, Standing is the story of a man preparing to attend his brother’s wedding. He does not appear to be looking forward to the event and, as excerpts from the family history are revealed, the reasons become clear.
Death Valley Junction is set in an American diner where a hungry traveller is waiting to be fed.
“Five people, four burgers. This one must be his. He stared out the window across the flat sand that shuddered in the midday heat. Breathed. Waited.”
A Sense of Agency and Red Sky at Night both deal with climate change. The former portrays a flooded London and a man still in denial, despite the water lapping at his feet. The latter has its protagonist allowing any pleasure in life to be drained by his determination to partake in some form of penance.
Bill Mathers is a list detailing a novelist, critic and angler’s views on fish, family and famous writers. Little is flattering.
Above the Fat is the story of a chef who returns to his childhood home after years spent acquiring fashionable skills around the world. He takes a job at a local hostelry and attempts to introduce clientele to the joys of good food. In the time it takes him to fry the perfect egg he contemplates the reasons he has ended up in a place where the locals eschew his flavoursome dishes, demanding simple burgers cooked to their tastes.
The collection closes with a half page description of The Beach at Oostende on a December evening. It is evocative and lingering.
The writing throughout has a haunting undercurrent. There is pathos in characters abandonment of their younger selves. Shadowed situations engender empathy and recognition. In both the ordinary and the more surreal, simple actions lead to disturbance. Much is contained and elicited within each sentence; years of experience captured within fleeting reactions.
This entirely enjoyable collection offers depth and emotive complexity. It is an original and satisfying read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Splice.