26th August 2014

Bumpy Roads by Brian Wilson and Rachel Coop

It is never easy reviewing a collection of short stories, or an anthology, because inevitably the quality of the stories is going to vary greatly. This is particularly true when there is a variety of authors. Here there are just two authors. The majority of the pieces are by Brian Wilson, but a handful are by Rachel Coop. This is probably a good way to introduce a new writer to the public.

There are thirty-eight pieces here, including a few poems. A few are linked by the earthquakes that have occurred in Christchurch, New Zealand, over the last few years. ‘Bumpy roads’, both physical and emotional, is a recurring theme. Some of the stories feel like fictionalised (more or less) travel writing. A few pieces stand out slightly from the background. ‘Flatting Dramas’ (Rachel Coop) is lifted by its humour. ‘First Date’ (Rachel Coop) is also one of the better stories. Again, the humour works well here. ‘All on a Sunny Day’ (Brian Wilson) is short but clever. ‘Death in the Family’ (Brian Wilson) is also a cut above, although I did guess the outcome quite early.

Many of the stories are more like slightly elongated anecdotes than stories. These are often quite homely tales. Sometimes I felt as though I was reading a holiday blog. I was uncertain about the boundary between fiction and non-fiction here. If these tales were slightly fictionalised non-fiction, perhaps it would have been better to present them simply as non-fiction. As fictional stories, I’m sorry to say that I often found the writing unimaginative and the subject matter uninteresting. Some readers may like this quiet, low key style of writing, these everyday tales. However, I suppose I look for more in a short story. I look to be moved, surprised, shocked. Few of the stories had the kind of emotional depth or clever structure that I prefer. The writing, while competent, was rarely exceptional.

As I often do with a collection such as this, I arrive at a star rating by averaging what I have given to each individual piece. Here that rounds out to around three stars.