Over the past few days I have read two debut short story collections — Diane Cook’s powerfully imaginative and equally disconcerting Man vs Nature and Arlene Heyman’s incisive and humorous Scary Old Sex.
Diane Cook’s ( http://dianemariecook.com/ ) short stories have been published in online literary magazines. For once the book blurb has to be taken for what it is—this is an astonishingly bold collection of stories. It is easily classified as speculative fiction, nudging the logical boundaries of imagination sufficiently to create a world which is not necessarily dystopic but disconcerting nevertheless especially in the new rules governing human social behaviour. There is a cold-hearted undercurrent to the stories that is chilling bringing home the point very strongly — irrespective of the situation, it is always survival of the fittest. What is frightening is that the scenarios these stories delineate are all in the realm of possibility. An unpleasant thought! It is very difficult to get rid from the mind’s eye of the landscape these stories create. Hence it is not surprising that this has been a Finalist for The Believer Book Award and the LA Times Book Prizes, Honorable Mention from the Pen/Hemingway Award, Longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and A Boston Globe, iBooks, and San Francisco Chronicle Best book of 2014.
Arlene Heyman’s debut Scary Old Sex is of a different ilk altogether. The short stories are descriptive and yet so detached, almost as if there is a clinical precision in the manner the mind operates. It is about sex but unlike most stories that focus on the act here the focus on how the mind operates is spellbindingly written. Being a practising psychiatrist is a definite advantage for Arlene Heyman. It maybe unfair to yoke the two distinct aspects of the author yet it is impossible not to see the influence her profession has on her storytelling. She is able to distinguish between the physical and mental wants of the individual. But equally stupendous is the fine detail with which she describes not only the real world but the spectrum of emotions her characters experience — a rare quality not often seen in short story writing. One of the most interesting stories is “In Love with Murray”, probably an autobiographical story based on Arlene Heyman’s affair with Bernard Malamud — it is dedicated to him. Read Elaine Showalter’s delightful review-article in the Guardian about the literary muse, Arelene Heyman, and unearthing the literary history + mystery that this collection encases. ( Scary Old Sex by Arlene Heyman review – lusty, tough and life-affirming , 25 Feb 2016 http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/feb/25/scary-old-sex-by-arlene-heyman-review )
Both collections are highly recommended.
Diane Cook Man Vs Nature Oneworld Publications, London, 2015. Pb. pp. 258
Arelene Heyman Scary Old Sex Bloomsbury, London, 2015. Pb. pp. 230 Rs 499