As the steadily decreasing amount of shelf space is given to it in bookshops will attest, the short story is struggling to get itself heard in the feeding frenzy that is today’s literary market. The aim of Comma, the first of what editor Ra Page hopes to be an annual collection of specially commissioned short stories, is to remind people of the widely varying possibilities of the format.
The 15 scribes represented here are certainly a diverse bunch – novelists, journalists, poets and playwrights ranging from the well-established (Shelagh Delaney) to the debutante (Emma Unsworth); together they give us a multi-faceted take on the modern urbanite. Wayne Clews catalogues a series of brief, forgettable sexual encounters with dry matter-of-factness that reverberates with emptiness. Claire Pollard’s tale of a young woman fulfilling her dream of moving to the city, but succumbing to fear and paranoia (“this city breaks people”) is reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion and is chilling in its plausibility. Gerard Woodward lightens the mood considerably with his irreverent and surreal ‘The Golden Boys’ – a writer so in control of language that the act of eating a kebab takes on poetic dimensions (“I gnawed at this warm bundle as I walked the empty lime avenues”). Equally surreal is Jeannie O’Hare’s ‘The Girl with Leaves in her Mouth’, as strange and haunting a story as you are likely to read all year.
Comma is certainly a worthwhile addition to any reader’s collection. Give these tales a chance and they will leave a residue that will be nagging at your conscience for days to come. With anthologies of this calibre, the short story can hold its head up high – a second volume should be eagerly anticipated.