The Next Stop is Croy and other stories by Andrew McCallum Crawford

This set of short stories was one of the first eBooks I downloaded to my new Kindle last year, and I’ve read them a couple of times since (giving the lie to those who seem to think that eBooks are only for one-off quick reads) These are – as the author says – not so much a sequence as a collection, because they were written at different times and gathered together later – but they do hang together beautifully. As with all good stories, what is not said is as important as what is said, perhaps more so. The writer’s unique voice sounds strong and clear through these but whether they are factually true or not is immaterial, because they are true in a more vital sense and I believed every single word of them. The characterisation is strong, the dialogue true to life, but more than this, they tell us something important about what it means to be a human being. They also tell us a great deal about the relationship between fathers and sons – and between husbands and wives too.

All these stories are good but if I had to single any of them out, my favourite would have to be the first story, Golf Balls, closely followed by The Watchmaker’s Wife and Saw Set, the first trio in fact. In Golf Balls, a father and his young son scavenge for lost balls on the fringes of a Scottish small-town golf club. This story is as moving and multi-layered a depiction of the pernicious effects of class distinction and snobbery – as well as the changing relationship between a father and his son – as I have read anywhere, right up to the moment when Alan, the boy, suddenly feels ‘too tall to be holding him up like that’ and the devastating ‘He was thinking about undertows. Not the kind that exist in stories…but the other kind.’

In the Watchmaker’s Wife, so full of superb everyday observations, from the coat left on the carpet so that the underfloor heating can warm it, to the intentional cruelty of the ‘woman from the fancy jewellers’ a woman struggles with her unrealised dreams and her bond with her husband –a brilliant depiction of the tensions between love, loyalty and disappointment in any long term relationship

Above all, I liked the subtlety of these. Nothing is too overt, nothing too explicit – yet everything is there, moving, and insightful and well crafted too. In fact, when I was rereading these, I was in the middle of writing crits for a short story competition, and I wanted to tell everybody to go away and read Golf Balls. Here the writer focuses on a life transforming event, seen from the point of view of a boy who will never feel quite the same way about all kinds of things again. Deceptively simple, but with vast implications over and beyond itself – in fact a textbook example of exactly how short stories should be – little cans of worms that once opened cannot be contained.

Reviewed by Catherine Czerkawska

Available in Amazon Kindle format 

Find out more about Andrew McCallum Crawford