Friday, 8 February 2013

Review: The Forbidden Stories by Steve Silkin

I think it was the title that originally drew me to this book. The word 'forbidden'. It sounded exciting and daring and a little bit naughty. I bought it a year ago and it sat, forgotten, in my Kindle along with almost 200 other novels and short story collections, waiting for me to get round to it.

By the time I did, I had forgotten what it was about. That's the problem with eReaders; you can't sneak an easy peak at the blurb to remind yourself what it is you're reading. Often you can't even quickly flip to the cover to see the title or the author. Not without a lot of messing about with buttons and arrows. Or maybe that's just me.

I've taken to not really caring - I pick a book, any book, from my 'To Be Read' list, and dive straight in. If I like it, I'll find out more about it, and the author, at the end.

If I love it, I'll write a review.

Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), I loved The Forbidden Stories by Steve Silkin.

This book is a strange one. Strange in a good way, but difficult to define. When I first started to read it, I thought it was a collection of individual short stories, each one dealing with the minutiae of life - a brief glimpse of an attractive girl, the lovers who might have been, a dream within a dream within a dream, the grief of losing a parent - but as I read on, I realised that the stories knitted together. It's not a novel, but the stories connect in some way, even if it's just the smallest thing, and that keeps it interesting. It means you need to think, which is something I have found lacking in many pieces of writing I have come across lately.

The use of the first person to narrate the stories helps with the illusion that these snippets of life are pieces of one life. Maybe they are. But really I think they are many lives - perhaps each one is told by a different person. Perhaps each one is told by the same person. Trying to look through the words and into the mind of the narrator is part of the enjoyment of reading this book.

The writing itself is fluid and the prose is beautiful. The story "At Dad's Grave" was, I think, my favourite. It's a hard choice, but this vignette portrays the loss and emotion and confusion that comes with grief, and it has hope as well. It defines a life.

Here are a couple of lines from this most heart-wrenching/heart-warming of stories:

When she checked my documents she looked up at me with a glowing smile and said:
"Welcome home! Are you going to be staying in Boston for a while?"
"No, I'm flying to L.A."
"Oh well. Have a great time!"
My father's funeral was the next morning.

Greeted his old pals as they arrived. Then walked off to the side of the mortuary chapel. Sobbed and sobbed. Don't think I've ever been that sad. It was over, Dad and me. Never see him again. When that hits you, it's something.

More years came, more years went. Mom died. Buried her next to Dad on a cloudy day, light rain. No one at the funeral. Dad, are you there?

A beautiful book - please read it.


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