DADDY by Emma Cline (Chatto £14.99, 272 pp)
by Emma Cline
(Chatto £14.99, 272 pp)
Emma Cline’s mesmerising debut, The Girls, delved into the faltering heart of a teenage girl to reveal a world of longing that was as depthless as it was dangerous.
The prose was heady, a heat-soaked lushness that slowly turned syrupy as the plot headed into sinister territory.
In these short stories the world is just as murky and menacing, but here Cline’s approach is cool and crisp; a detached look into the minds of her characters — mostly middle-aged white men — whose behaviour is baleful, but who are seemingly bewildered by how their lives have gone to the bad.
There’s a rage-filled father, who asks his children: ‘Do you love your daddy the most?’ (What Can You Do With A General) and a bullying businessman, who reduces his son’s girlfriend to tears, obscenely insults his lover and then blithely asks how he could be ‘the bad guy in all this’? (Northeast Regional).
Cline never explicitly states the misdeeds of these men, but there’s a suggestive queasiness to these bleak, well-crafted tales that hints at abuse and disturbing power dynamics.
That said, the stand-out story, Marion, delves into complicated tensions between two girls aged 11 and 13; reminiscent in tone of The Girls, it begins beautifully — ‘Cars the colours of melons and tangerines sizzled in cul-de-sac driveways’ — and unfurls into an uneasy tale of unstable parents, ignored children and burgeoning sexuality.
FAMISHED by Anna Vaught (Influx Press £7.99, 224 pp)
by Anna Vaught
(Influx Press £7.99, 224 pp)
It’s clear Anna Vaught has an appetite for words that glint with an ‘unusual patina’. Stars are aureate, inhabitants umbrageous, crones are rufous and a grandmother (unloving and unlovely) is a turophile, obsessed by cheese which tastes of ‘saddle and the hair of beasts in heat’.
There’s a relish for language in these eerie, moreish little tales, but the food served up isn’t necessarily nourishing; a snack can be ‘a thing of snide rebuke’ (Cucumber Sandwiches), and unpleasant dinners are a very visceral metaphor for emotional disregard, a means of ‘throttling or suffocating an unwanted child’ (A Tale Of Tripe).
In Vaught’s stylised stories, the undead wait to feast on the living, pies are packed with bad thoughts, their menace sweetened under a pastry crust.
In Seaside Rock And Other Homicides, ‘muffled Myfanwy’, her life quashed by her vile husband and truculent son, finds her voice with the help of a lover, stamping the sticks of rock through with an enticing, unsettling message: ‘Oh, did you ever, and if not, why?’