I was too young for Sex and Drugs and Rock n’Roll in the 1960’s. Reading Kindling I find I’m too old for Sex and Drugs and Rock n’Roll 21st century style. It’s far too depressing. Stephen Livingston’s collection of 12 short stories deals with the dreams and daily trials and tribulations of a disparate bunch of ordinary people, giving voice to those caught up in a vicious spiral of poverty, drugs and despair.
It’s fundamentally depressing but never gets samey. He experiments in a range of different narrative voices and styles from the starkness of Choose Your Future and Wasters Tale (homages to the Trainspotting generation) to clever Kafkaesque Adventures of Freddie, Livingstone’s close observation works well. Set both sides of the Atlantic, with a trip to India thrown in for good measure, the stories offer an eclectic view of domestic drudgery in Recycling, an offbeat and humorous view of sex in Come Dancing, a salutary tale of murder gone wrong in Tell Tale Trunk and of the unseen dangers of religious fundamentalism in Farmers Right Arm. For me, however, the standouts were Wheel of Justice – a horrific pastiche of what the Game Show could become, Jaipur Gems – where greed and treachery are played out with an interesting twist and A cataract of Breaking Glass which deals with loss and death in a heartbreaking and poignant manner.
These are not by and large ‘nice’ stories, but they are good stories. Told by a unique voice. Through it all, I found no sense of redemption. No light at the end of the tunnel. The close observation of a range of ordinary characters, leading ordinary lives leads one to the conclusion that modern life is more than rubbish and that resorting to sex, drugs and rock n’roll is a way to escape the horrors of life not a way to enhance one’s experience of it
Kindling is available in Kindle format here