Initially I struggled with these stories, much as I struggled to comprehend what the famous E.M.Forster ‘only connect’ epigraph was all about. Then it hit me. If I were to describe Ordinary Domestic in one word it would be ‘disconnect.’ Clever. I’m no judge of a ‘collection’ of short stories or how they should fit together and that’s perhaps why I found myself bouncing around in this collection, never quite sure what I was being told in a more holistic way… and that’s the point. The unifying feature (for me) of this collection is ‘disconnect.’
Within these fifteen stories, of very varying length, some very very short and some a more ‘regular’ length, the unpleasant realities of everyday life and relationships are explored. The range of emotions runs from poignancy to sheer disgust at the ‘ordinary domestic’ human condition exposed within stories that cover as seemingly eclectic a range of subjects as memory, breast cancer, child abuse, dementia, incest, Aids and adoption. But on reflection I did realise that all of these were indeed ‘ordinary domestic’ topics and so the collection does indeed do what it says on the tin!
The stories are too diverse for me to review each in and of itself. But be prepared for a variety of length, of style and even of languages (I was happy to see Scots featured in a couple of cases. I found ‘What Mattered about the Dancing’ and ‘Our Family Tradition’ were over before I’d really had time to realise what they were saying – and then had to re-read them a couple of times before moving on, I had to constantly refocus my reading brain in order to juggle the ‘disconnect’. That’s no criticism, just an observation of the awareness of a symbiotic relationship a reader has to adopt to read such work. On reflection I found Ordinary Domestic presented a range of difficult subjects intelligently pulled together and challenging to the reader in a range of ways.
For me the standout story was Careless, and this because it clearly showed two perspectives on a subject which I found fascinating – the links between the two main characters ,each stuck in their own personal worlds – were poignant and moving. Two women joined by a single personal event, unknown to each other sharing a sorrow. On a bus. It gives you pause for thought – that you could look across a bus and never know what the person sitting opposite you is feeling, thinking or going through. We do it every day. When we get cut up driving, or when we celebrate a success, how much time do we give to ‘why’ the person may have driven erratically, or think of all the people for whom our birthday for example is a day of bereavement. The ‘disconnect’ of the characters in the stories thus also potentially reflects our own ‘disconnect’ from other people, and it’s a clever and brave thing to do because until I understood the central ‘disconnect’ I didn’t understand the point of some of the stories. I was looking for an ‘only connect’ pattern when I needed to focus on the complete opposite! I’m glad I stuck with it. Challenging is good. Difficult can be fulfilling.
Today’s review of Ordinary Domestic serves as a taster for the First Edinbugh Ebook Festival in which Carol will appear. A special pre-festival editors blog post is due tomorrow at which all (or some) will be revealed. Also happy to report that Carol will be joining our regular IEBR review team after the Festival. (Ed)
Ordinary Domestic is available in Kindle format
For other formats, see the Pothole Press website:
Find out more about Carol McKay