Wednesday, 22 July 2009
UGLY STORIES FOR BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE
First things first: the formatting of this book is absolutely hideous, and the stories are riddled with typos. Plus, there’s a jaggedness to the text on the front and back covers that suggest a poor quality print job. Since Corsega Press, who released this book, don’t seem to exist any more, this isn’t really a surprise.
What is a surprise, is the quality of the actual stories. I’ve never heard of James Burr before, but the blurb on the back of the book certainly sold me on him. Almost all of Burr’s stories seem to involve a pun as a title/punchline, and a strong psychosexual/drug element, and the only person I can think of that comes close to his style of writing is Will Self. Except, Will Self has been going longer, and is more arch in his story-telling.
There are some stories in UGLY that, quite frankly, are largely pointless, or based on such a terrible pun that it renders the work itself redundant. There are also a couple of stories with mismatched time frame/Americanisms/references, including ‘Foetal Attraction’, in which the narrator tells us it’s the 21st Century, and then mentions Supermarket Sweep….which hasn’t been on telly since the late 90’s. Hmmm.
The majority of the book is brilliantly written, with the basis for many of the stories involving relationships between wives/husbands, boyfriends/girlfriends, people/drugs, that range from the perverse (BOBANDJANE) to the bittersweet (Ménage Á Beaucoup).
My personal favourite is probably ‘Life Is What You Make It’, involving as it does a woman dealing with grief in such a bizarre way that she’s fundamentally altered the structure of reality.
‘Bernie Does Camberwell’, in which poor Bernie find himself in constant demand for sex from women, is another excellent piece. The truth behind what’s happening is so obvious is should come with a farty trumpet ‘parr-arrp’ noise when it’s revealed, but that doesn’t stop it from being crap, and maybe even makes it funnier.
Another thing I liked about these stories is that almost all them exist within the same universe. Characters and locations interconnect and reference each other, helping to build a skewered, strangely 90’s, version of London. When Burr uses a different setting (like Barcelona, for the rather boring ‘Blue’), it doesn’t work quite as well, although it is nice for a change of location.
It might not be too bold to say the world needs more writers with fresh and weird ideas, and James Burr falls firmly into that camp. He’s still apparently working on a full-length novel, so I hope it gets finished and a publisher with a proper bloody editor takes it on.