When I saw that Nextread was doing a short story month I immediately asked to be allowed to contribute and I quickly laid claim to this collection of short stories. Now I’m a little afraid I can’t do it justice, but here we go.
Rob Shearman has created a collection of short stories around love, each one unique, not only from the others but from any other expression of love. It’s a dark, twisted, sometimes funny, sometimes frightening love that Shearman explores. Take any of the common expressions of love to their extreme, take a really literal look at even the silliest love song and these stories are what you find.
What if when we gave people our hearts we did so literally and had to hope they’d take good care of it, that they’d give it back if we asked them? What if some people only had enough love to give it to one thing or person at a time and the ghost of tiny cat could hold all their love so they didn’t have enough left for the husband or child?
These are not typical love stories, but many of them are oddly touching. The devil trying to write romance and discovering that he can’t have anything in his life that isn’t tainted by hell, it’s comical but also a little sad. Really, don’t we all crave something that is all ours, not tainted by career or other relationships?
In the introduction Steven Hall worries that the introduction itself will throw off the delicate balance of the book, it doesn’t so he needn’t worry. He makes good points though, Love Songs is beautifully balanced, it treads delicately between humour, horror and empathy. I challenge anyone not to find themselves smiling a little sadly as they recognise something in some of these characters and as long as it’s not in George Clooney’s Moustache then that’s just fine.
Shearman writes beautifully, switching voices with each tale and demonstrating why the short story, so difficult to get right, really is the perfect media for certain tales.
There are eighteen stories in all, some only a page or two, others significantly longer.
In George Clooney’s Moustache the whole tale is told from one point of view though there is clearly a role reversal during the tale. It’s impossible to tell what is true and what is imagined since the story teller admits to inventing things. As the story forms in half truths it becomes increasingly chilling in a way that a complete telling couldn’t have managed.
The juxtaposition in Pangs of the straight forward story of a breakup against the concept of literally handing over your heart is strangely affecting. All the way through the book it’s the blend of the extreme or the absurd next to the mundane that creates the effect. Language and speech mannerisms create a sense of character, but none of them engage too strongly, that’s not the point. I didn’t feel moved to like or dislike characters exactly, more that I was required to witness and consider their stories and that was part of the power of Love Songs. In sweet nothings Cerano de Bergerac is mixed with Adam and Eve and naturally the pig gets the rough end of the spit. It’s a bit silly, sweet in some ways and naturally shallow wins out over meaningful.
Read it slowly, savouring each story before moving on to the next, they are subtle and affecting, it would be wasteful to rush through cover to cover in a day. I recommend one a night just before bed. If when you reach the end you find yourself asking how exactly they are love stories then go back to the beginning and read them again, more slowly.