This somewhat enigmatically entitled collection of short stories by Jeremy Worman follows the Hackney-based author’s debut collection Fragmented in 2011.
The stories are divided into two sections, ‘Places’ and ‘London’, with some set in far flung destinations such as Russia, as well as in Surrey and East London. ‘Christmas Games’, an insight into a mother and son relationship, demonstrates the clarity of Worman’s prose style. But the story is punctuated by disturbing moments, such as when the son plays with Scalextric and dreams of crashing his mother’s new ‘friend’ on “the worst corner at Silverstone”. Then, after he feels his thigh being squeezed, he reveals: “I got an erection.”
These characters return in ‘After Father’s Funeral’. The mother and son are now at the father’s funeral.These are characters that “need love”. Worman’s descriptions often seem superfluous in other stories – “gloomy” rooms, voices “like grenades” – but here he writes with a sobriety that illuminates the character’s state of mind.
The image of the father’s coffin, as it “moved easily into the flames” is followed by the downing of a pint. The movement of the coffin and the act of drinking show a flushing out of memory, a sort of anaesthetised look at life.
‘Old and New’ takes place on the 38 bus route, along Balls Pond Road. As vivid a picture as Worman paints of the area, the story struggles to delve deeper than surface description, and some of the dialogue falls flat, such as the old woman’s cry of “young-uns!” and a nurse’s exclamation that there is “no racism in me”. It feels too obvious and lacking in anything particularly new.
The collection works better in stories such as ‘Stairs at 29 Mehetabel Road’ or ‘Harry Slocombe’s East End Return’ with the former a touching exploration of place and history as layers of paint are stripped off an 1863 Hackney terraced house with hidden histories revealing themselves from underneath the paint.
Despite the variable quality of the stories, it is excellent writing overall. One only wishes Worman had narrowed his focus on London as when he does the collection really comes alive.
Swimming with Diana Dors & Other Stories is published by Cinnamon Press. RRP: £9.99. ISBN: 9781909077225