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Tales from Suburbia Paperback – July 3, 2017
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It starts with the author in ‘Bridget Jones’ Baby: The Aftermath’ mode, detailing the minutiae of her days and nights dominated by the ‘small person’, who in spite of being loved to bits, frequently morphs into a slippery creature from an alien planet whose sole purpose on earth is to see just how much torture ‘big persons’ can take before they crack. There are many laugh-out-loud moments and even fellow sufferers will be forced to grin, albeit reluctantly. Later in the book there’s a wonderful parody of course notes (‘Course PTM 123’) for covering the finer points of wee-wee and poo-poo training. Parents on the verge of madness will be interested to read that participants require ‘the ability to execute repetitive actions with the exact high level of enthusiasm’, which includes ‘clapping enthusiastically for the 27th wee-wee that day’.
The short stories, by and large, are written in the same humorous vein, often ending with a wicked Roald Dahl-like twist (dead bodies feature in two of them). Some are sharply observed commentaries on the latest social trends (I particularly enjoyed ‘Have You slept with your neighbour yet?’) But there is a wider tonal range here. ‘A Pint of Milk and a Stabbing’ is a reflection on the intrusion of violence into our ‘normal world’, leaving the narrator trembling and sobbing. The movingly-written ‘Burying my Baby’ is even more personal and intimate.
The author has an excellent ear for dialogue, captured in the stories but at its best in the short plays. It’s easy to imagine these as comedy sketches for television (Tracey Ullman are you listening?).
I would just say that the suburbia of this book is very British, as is the humour. But apart from a couple of local references, most of it is perfectly accessible to anyone who enjoys an entertaining read and a good laugh. Certainly parents (and grandparents) everywhere will be able to identify with those extracts featuring the ‘small one’, where sometimes inanimate objects (lost keys, supermarket trolleys) conspire to make the author’s day even more of a challenge.
This book is a wonderful collection of smart, savvy, wise, sad, funny, creepy and engaging pieces of writing. there are blog style entries about everyday life with a toddler (which any parent will instantly relate to) and a selection of twist in the tail short stories, with some other thought-provoking pieces as well. It is the kind of book to pick up with a cup of coffee for a quick read break between tasks and whatever you read will stay with you a little and have you pondering.
It is well written and thoroughly enjoyable. There was not a single part I did not enjoy - and some will haunt me a while yet like ‘A Pint of Milk and a Stabbing’ and ‘Burying My Baby’ others had me laughing out loud like ‘Have you Slept With Your Neighbour Yet?” But if I had to declare a favourite it would be ‘Airport’ - pathos and humour. Perfect.
‘Trolleys love each other. I mean they really, really love each other.’
My only criticism - and it may even be a positive for many readers - is that the tone skips piece to piece rather dramatically. When reading it at one sitting that can make for a very choppy experience. But that minor point aside this s a fabulous little book about life. Do yourself a favour and read it.
I think it would have been a stronger collection without the blog posts included, or if they were at least marked as such. It’s a little jarring to be trying to follow the plot, only to realize at the end that there isn’t one.
I really liked all of the stories and plays up until the endings, where each one seemed to close too abruptly, leaving a feeling of incompleteness. They could also have used better editing, especially with the punctuation.
However, the characterization and dialogue is very well done in all of the stories and plays.
In each of them, “Bodies in the Graveyard,” “Airport,” “Have You Slept with Your Neighbor Yet?,” “One, Two, Cha Cha Cha” and “Happy Wife, Happy Life,” I did feel drawn in and almost as if I was there.
So, while this collection, in my opinion, has some problems I think it also shows plenty of promise.