iamhyperlexic

Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

Review: 20 Stories High, by Michael Yates

ISBN 978-0-9934811-8-5

Armley Press

GBP 8.99

This collection contains some experimental pieces, including one which has no human characters, and others in which some of the characters are human, but also dead.  There is a story set aboard a stranded spaceship, in which two of the characters are inscrutable robots with seemingly diametrically opposed moral purposes.

There are some references to what the Open University calls ‘sensitive material’ (substance abuse, violence, sex – particularly sexual impropriety) and a healthy amount of swearing.

I enjoyed this collection in two, separate ways.

The experimental stories intrigue me not so much in how the weirdness of the story is set up, but more by how it is resolved.  These resolutions, without contradicting any of the set-up, often emphasise the more basic elements of character, motive, and desire.

This leads me to the second way I enjoyed them, which was to dwell on Michael Yates’s own biography and career as a provincial journalist in the days before word processors and the smoking ban.  Whether set in a sub-editor’s office or a spaceship, Michael Yates’s most convincing characters are male, middle-aged, and have a chip on their shoulder about something they may or may not admit to.  The chap who might try to bore you to tears in a golf club or railway station bar is somebody we never want to meet, but I do like to read about him in Michael Yates’s stories.  Michael, like any good writer, can make a character who sounds as if he has had a boring life come clean about the one part of it that makes a good story.  An extraordinary person, telling interesting stories, will soon get boring.  An ordinary person, telling just one story, as if his life depends upon it, can be fascinating.

I will not divulge which among the collection is my undoubted favourite.  I will just say that it uses a borrowed title, a first person narrator who is clearly out of his mind, and it has no section breaks.

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