Shoe Fly Baby, the 2004 Asham Award short story anthology, is
eclectic to say the least. Taking us from a London brothel, to a
cancer ward, to a “utopian” state in which Ritalin is
added to the water supply, these stories reflect a wide range of
human experience. However, I would also argue that they vary in
quality. While some of these stories stand out for their
emotional intensity, stylistic sophistication or, in two cases,
downright strangeness, others are less engaging and even banal.
Nevertheless, the wide variety within this collection makes it an
enjoyable read. The Asham Award, named for the house in Sussex
where Virginia Woolf once lived, aims to encourage new female
writers. One of the questions that this anthology left me with,
however, is whether or not an anthology containing solely women
writers is actually necessary. In addition to revealing their own experience, these authors
are also just as deft at revealing the perspective of men.
Rachael McGill’s ‘Butter Fish Parrot Fish’ shows
us a man carrying his baby daughter into a pub, while Naomi
Alderman’s ‘Gravity’ quite successfully narrates a
man’s entire life in the span of 14 pages. The most
impressive of these efforts to assume a new perspective is
undoubtedly the First Prizewinning story by Victoria Briggs. Set
in a North London brothel, ‘Shoe Fly Baby’ tells the
story of Halim, who stares in awe at a shop window lined with
trainers, and that of Debra, the prostitute who dances for him in
five-inch heels. Repudiating any preconceptions the reader might
have about power relations and victimisation, this story is
strong and unsettling. In my opinion, it resonates quite well
with Francine Stock’s ‘Antechamber’ in which a
cancer patient tells us about her experience with strength,
humour, and not the slightest trace of sentimentality. In a sharp contrast to this, Carey Jane Hardy’s
‘Face to Face’ takes on a tone of deep emotion as a
woman most slowly come to terms with her loss of eyesight.
Selected from over 900 entries, the stories in this collection
are of high quality. And the wide range of stories offered by
Shoe Fly Baby ensures that every reader is likely to find at
least some appealing. While you probably will not like all of the
stories in this collection, it undoubtedly a great way to spend
an afternoon. Bloomsbury, Paperback, £6.99ARCHIVE: 0th week TT 2004