Lunate Vol. 1 is an astonishingly impressive short story collection published by the Lunate Journal. It is their first print edition – the second is due for imminent release and will be launched on November 3rd at Blackwell’s Bookshop in Manchester.
Vol. 1 contains nine short stories and there isn’t a weak one amongst them. The editors – Hannah Clark and Gary Kaill – are to be commended in selecting work by authors capable of writing so powerfully in this format.
The collection opens with What becomes of the night when there is nothing left to see? by Rosie Garland. On the surface this is a story of a solitary man who works nights for a Ministry, plotting the night sky. He enjoys the rhythms of his work but grows concerned when changes are noticed. It is more upsetting still when he cannot find anyone to discuss this with. There is much to unpack – fear of loss or change, of not being listened to, joy in a task drained when seen from a different perspective. What is happening within the context presented could be a metaphor for the modern world in which we are expected to follow instruction without question even as we see potential damage.
Rewild by Claire Carroll was one of my favourite stories. A young woman is working what is supposed to be her final day on a project dealing with animals that in a previous era were farmed. She became involved alongside her boyfriend, required to follow company rules and also support his endeavours. It becomes apparent that there are cracks in the relationship and also in her employers understanding of the creatures supposedly being cared for. So much is conveyed beneath what is clearly stated – on privacy, control and agency. Good deeds are not always done with good intentions. The denouement was pitch perfect.
Hidden Knowledge by Linda Mannheim explores place and belonging. A young woman returns from Managua to Washington Heights, where she grew up, as her mother is dying. She observes the burned buildings in the Bronx, comparing them to war scarred cities in Nicaragua. She has lived through danger in both areas, as did her mother when she fled to America. A friend questions her suggestion that the Bronx is a comparable war zone. Again, much is going on beneath the everyday of the story. People coming and going, losing touch by choice, leaving only memories.
“That’s one of the things I understand now about disappearance – if someone’s nowhere, they can be anywhere.”
Daisies by Dave Wakely looks at another immigrant experience, this time through the eyes of two Romanians who fled the Ceaușescu regime. They were welcomed as a novelty in Britain at a time when asylum seekers were an occasional splash rather than a tidal wave due to war and human rights issues. The elder man, a fêted if not well paid professor, questions how his adopted country has changed over the years – and if his homeland may now be a better prospect.
“Here, it seems culture is a luxury. For all your smiling patrons’ airy chatter about diversity and inclusion, the ticket prices never fall.”
The once coveted British passport may now be less respectable abroad than its Romanian equivalent. The story offers much to chew over around middle class British attitudes and conceits.
Artistic hubris is brilliantly dissected in my other favourite story in the collection, The Prepared Piano by Jonathan Gibbs. Structured as a celebrity interview, a brilliant pianist is about to perform in a much lauded venue. Having made her name in the usual way, through virtuoso performance, the pianist has now moved in an innovative direction. She pays a young man to change her instrument without him telling her what has been done, and then plays to the audience through whatever performance difficulties this may create. It is so true that self-appointed artistic connoisseurs will accept such ridiculous concepts as wondrous, with those who don’t show appreciation regarded as inferior arbiters of quality. Artists may well grow bored over time with sameness but change is not necessarily evolutionary. The denouement is almost painfully hilarious.
The remaining four stories in the collection examine aspects of the human condition while evoking each setting skilfully. As characters are introduced and developed the reader feels the possible disturbance beneath what may on the surface appear banal.
In bella ciao by Daniel Payne the protagonist seeks help for a problem he must deal with.
“my father is back at the hotel in the bath and dead”
The Clearance by John Saul takes the reader inside the head of an estate agent, offering up the professional he strives to be alongside the reality.
Ceramics for Beginners by Claire Thomson tells of a young woman in a loving but unequal relationship who seeks a new skill that will garner admiration. She has dreams for her future but recognises potential issues these could introduce to a life she was generally content with.
The collection closes with Exit Interview for a Valued Colleague by Ben Pester, in which a manager grasps this opportunity to talk frankly of himself to his captive audience. What develops grows ever more disturbing.
Although both clever and entertaining, the insights offered are more often witty than caustic. Human faults are portrayed without the need for explicit exposition. A fabulous collection that will engage and reward any reader – highly recommended.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Lunate Journal.