Storm Damage is a short story collection from the highly regarded John A. A. Logan, most of them strong, interesting and odd, and most having emotional pull. The stories are less about plot than themes on the human condition, heightened by magical realism and some striking imagery. The stories are strong, but much of it is internal monologue, where the narrator sees much in the simplest things. An example in The Pond:
‘Kundini bent his arm and searched with his fingers for her fingers until he felt them lightly flutter in his palm like a tiny bird’s wings answering him across forty years.’
The book is full of such gems, many of them haunting. In Late Testing, a British First World War soldier returns home, walking his old town like a ghost, to find an old woman floating dead in a pond. Her killers have tried to keep her body down with stones. The protagonist understands the town’s establishment want her land, and to get it they have treated her like a witch, like the ‘other’. Feeling like ‘the other’ himself with his mechanical leg, he seeks revenge for her. It pulls you under waves of darkness without seeming to try.
The collection is about many things, but loneliness scars many of the characters. In Napoleon’s Child a German alone in the desert gets a mast measurement wrong (we never find out what for, but it barely matters) for the first time because a boy came from the middle of nowhere and filled his life. One of the investigators who arrives and disturbs him get an earful. He asks what life is for if you cannot live for a miracle like this boy, and the value of human contact.
In Unicorn One, an independent Scotland sends a woman to the outer reaches of the Solar System as an act of patriotism. They don’t choose an astronaut, or any other traditional sense of a professional. They choose a hairdresser. She’s escaping dodgy boyfriends and a dissatisfied life, but she finds empty space’s realities so much lonelier than down there. Even with a satellite filming her for TV back home.
Storm Damage is full of such weird beauties. In fact, there’s probably only a couple of conventional stories: The Magenta Tapestry, which charts a woman and her gardener’s revenge on Russia, and Storm Damage, about a man learning to trust people.
I wasn’t a big fan of At the Edge of the Known World, or The Orange Pig, stories with animals, including a pig that has conversations with wolves. Though both have a lot of memorable imagery, I couldn’t get into either.
If you like plot-driven fiction, this might not be your cuppa, but I love James Ellroy, and this nevertheless had me over a barrel with an arm pulled behind my back, demanding my attention. Great collection.