Kate Garrett (ed.), Slim Volume: No Love Lost, (Pankhearst, 2014), 137pp, £5.99. ISBN 1505292875
Reviewed by Kyle Cooper
[Originally published in LP9, June 2016]
I once saw a bunch of fake flowers which seemed pretty convincing. Certainly they’d fooled the bees, whose poor bodies clustered round the cloth stomata. I think Kate Garrett, the editor of No Love Lost, would have enjoyed it. Good “love literature” must explore heartaches and jealousies as much as it applauds the lighter side of love – it must elegise the bees, rather than just chat about the flowers. As Garrett explains, it is the desire to find some Disney prince/ss, some pirate queen or sensitive hero that nurses the canker which kills “love”. Kate Garrett has assembled a fine collection of authors’ “anti-romance” flash fictions and poems in which there is – happily – no trace of “cliché and sentimentality” (‘Introduction’).
Some of these short pieces take tired expressions of love and gleefully subvert them, such as Michele Brenton’s pithy ‘The Happiest Valentine’, in which a devoted lover isn’t quite all he seems, revealed with a flourish in the final line (I won’t spoil it). Some explore the reality of idealistic situations – the sweaty reality of a city break, marred by partners falling below expectations, infidelity and saved (or scuppered?) by lust – explored in the visceral ‘Dead Man’s Fingers’ (Zoe Gilbert) or contrasted with an overly mundane marriage in Aoibheann McCann’s ‘Water Damage’. Liz Hedgecock’s ‘Paradise Island’ looks at another holiday romance, one which culminates in an abandoned woman plotting murder on an island paradise.
Disappointment is a common theme in these pieces, as the standard of love is raised high above human capabilities. ‘Questionmark’ by Leanne Radojkovic deals with the aftermath of a moment of unfaithfulness, characters shaping themselves into punctuation marks until a moment of violence becomes the ‘!’ at the end of a cold war of a relationship. Charlotte Aspin’s ‘Untitled’ shows what happens when such a frigid relationship continues; “thirty five years of gradual movement – how many degrees of separation would that count for?”
Love in the real world must necessarily be modern, and a number of these pieces deal with the role of technology in today’s romance – a new part of love, but flawed and often lacking. ‘The Book of Love’ by Liam Hogan is playful and slightly sinister, in which a piece of technology takes on memories which are recorded in it, until it is erased by a sensual “administrator” (“I’ve never had someone so deep in my menus…What’s that? Reset?”). While in this piece, technology is forced to relinquish feelings, Adam Morris’s ‘White Noise’ examines a relationship which cannot be sustained by technological memories alone. A passionate affair decays into “A chain reaction of decreasingly frequent Facebook likes” until one partner chooses an exit; “Brave but cowardly / To lie in the bathtub, / Memories on screen, / As it all becomes white noise.”
Several of the texts deal with “love” at its most putrid. Elizabeth Gardener’s ‘Shallow Sleeps’ is a skin-crawlingly chilling text (I mean that in the best possible way), concluding “Termination? Caesarian? Having a baby. Yes. That should bring me round”. I’ll let you read the details of it yourself, but it is not for nothing that Kate Garrett warns in the introduction that the collection “isn’t for the faint-hearted or the wobbly of constitution”. Another favourite of mine is ‘Up to, but not including’ by Rex Davis, which contains the gloriously dark
Let me be your Ted Hughes
You can be my Sylvia Plath
Up to, but not including
When you put your head in the gas.
Some of these pieces could seem irreverent, as often comes with turning established patterns on their heads, but the light-hearted approach never seems casual, rather a way of avoiding despair. These pieces frequently come with a sting in the tail – roses full of wasps. Philip Gordon’s ‘<3. Nope’ considers this well;
the flowers i got you
were rife with bees
the box of chocolates
filled with notes about infant mortality in africa
Insects also writhe in ‘Maggot’ by Bo Meson, which deals with a break-up in which both participants are eventually saved, transfigured into larvae. The narrator is eaten by “maggot”, who then flies away, leaving her heartbroken. However, there is a rebirth in this:
I can’t live without maggot
and will soon die with joy
erupting with life just like you
There is a salvation present in many of these pieces, overcoming the flaws in love caused by cliché and supposition. Gordon concludes his poem with an excellent quatrain which brings ‘love’ and ‘anti-love’ into close contact, writing
be my stain of a person
reminding me that the world is unclean
and i wouldn’t have it any other way.
To my mind, that encapsulates the overall feel of the collection – these are caustic, cynical assaults on the “wuv woos” and “baes” of the modern world with an arsenal of sharp tongues and wicked wit. But there is a celebration, too, of this kind of love – it’s flawed, corrupted, sometimes downright frightening or violent, but there’s an attraction within it too.
Garrett should be commended for her editing abilities, and her decisions in selecting these texts. There is a wide variety of themes and styles, exploring the ugly faces of modern love as well as reflecting the fact that it remains love, and is celebrated accordingly. These are sharply intelligent, often funny and highly enjoyable. I would say “I loved it”, but it doesn’t seem appropriate somehow.