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This Paradise by Ruby Cowling offers the most original short stories I’ve read in a long time. It’s one of the titles from the newly launched Boiler House Press, based at the University of East Anglia.
The collection opens with “Edith Aleksander, b. 1929”. It’s one of the shortest stories but one that will stay with you for a long time. The narrator, Edith Aleksander, is presented with pair of tiny white doll wings from her granddaughter. She feels them moving. This gesture triggers a touching recollection of her life, as she stares at the children playing outside. There is an element of peace as Edith witness the joy and innocence of childhood that serves as a mirror of a life that is coming to an end. This story is about the small things that really matter in life and it’s beautifully wrapped around the powerful image of those tiny wings. A stunning story, under five pages long, that deserves to be read and reread.
A display of extraordinary narrative talent, is found in “The Ground is Considerably Distorted”. This is the story of a political scandal, of politically incorrect comments, overheard by a journalist, that make it into the headlines. I believe this is an astonishing example of a polyphonic story, a term coined by the Russian literary theorist M. Bahktin. In “The Ground is Considerably Distorted” we hear the narrator’s voice, a Japanese journalist; at the same time, and cleverly displayed on the side of the page, we hear the voice of a newsreader giving the developments in the story. On top of that, a series of tweets and a chat on a mobile phone are brilliantly intertwined in the narration. And it works, those dialogues give the story a fresh and current perspective on the way we communicate with one another, presenting a very recognisable portrait of our relationship with the news, social media platforms and overall, human interaction.
The story that gives name to the collection, “This Paradise”, is one of the most conventional in terms of structure but touches several topics of how we see one another in moments of despair. The story starts with an au pair, Cara, looking after two small children as they are informed of the imminent arrival of a hurricane. Nothing more unpredictable than the course of nature’s most terrifying and destructive forces. As everyone prepares for it, the boys grow concerned for the wellbeing of their Haitian gardener and his family. Suddenly, they are nowhere to be seen. Once again, Ruby Cowling builds the tension in the story in an incredibly skilled way: the torrential rain, the missing children, and the very unexpected ending. Brilliant.
Human relations are a topic that prevails across this collection of short stories. For me, the talent of Ruby Cowling shines even more in the shorter stories. In “[SUPERFAR]”the atmosphere feels dangerously current but also completely futuristic. With dashes of sci-fi the reader becomes a witness to an odd and slightly uncomfortable exchange of cyber messages as the two characters try to explain to one another the worlds they live in. Is this virtual reality? Are these parallel worlds? Don’t be surprised if this short story ends up being made into an episode of Black Mirror, it’s that good.
This Paradise offers an incredibly diverse range of topics, from luna moths, to everyday family life, odd encounters at massage parlours and more. There is something very refreshing about these short stories; they are original, current, entertaining, and relevant. Highly recommended.
This Paradise is published by Boiler House Press.