If you’re a prude, stay away from Rom Little Darker.
If you’re after a feel-good, comforting book, look elsewhere.
If you want filter-free, electric fiction; if you like Brett Easton Ellis, Virginie Despentes, Irvine Welsh, then dive in. For June Caldwell is your woman – her tales are full of raw characters, fullI of harsh truths, S&M, drunken fights and bloody abortions. The Ireland she depicts is a sad one at best, a sordid one most of the time. Her entire book sways with the inebriation of her characters, her stories are drenched in booze, spunk and blood; her characters are bruised and battered lost souls, men craving love and women craving babies; delicate flowers buried under all the Irish mayhem, the poverty, the racism, the drugs, the booze, the failings of a welfare system.
In her modern, sharp and occasionally surreal short stories, June Caldwell explores the deep, dark corners of today’s society. The struggles of a woman overcoming the death of her father, the sordid rendez-vous of an S&M couple with strangers, the torments of a man whose only friend is a tree, the musings of a junkie over his wife and lost children, the soliloquy of a foetus on abortion day.
There is a lot of introspection in the character she depicts, for they all have in common the fact that they are no longer what they used to be, they’ve all hit rock bottom and their characters are an ambivalent split between their past and their present self, giving them their depth and heartbreaking humanity.
“They’d lie on the wet mattress after slamming the stuff. Then they’d green out and imagine all sorts. The two of them rolling into the hills biting sweat gashes of rivers, green slime, bits of broken helicopters, church bells in ears, cold tiny blue as God’s feet, big as cheese urns, landing unceremoniously in a crumpled scared heap. The room would turn into a spinning fucken barrel turning shrill pork belly with them naked rolling and banging into the ridges with running whiskey gag. […] When they’d come down with a crash twenty minutes later and she’d hear the ghost of the bank inside the old windows, telling her to pick up the horse shit and bring it to the man in the Botanic Gardens for the flowerbeds. She’d hear the dead baby too, asking for his doc too, “Gimme boy too too, too too mine:” He’d have to pretend to to hand the absent baby something, anything that might look like a voodoo. Then he’d slap it into to her to get her to stop seeing the baby and she’d ask for another baby, tits well gone since they’d started using again.“
Her stories are brief, shocking, somewhat elliptical and one has to occasionally hold on tight not to lose the occasionally tenuous plots. They come across like short blasts, ending as abruptly as they started; they are full of emotion, funny and moving at the same time, almost blinding in their power.
Caldwell’s inimitable style is explosive, a mix of poetry and slang that fetches from a deep, dark place and erupts in an inimitable turn of phrase that keeps us deeply entertained.
Her ability to write about such a variety of subjects, her tone and language morphing from story to story, show the extent of her talent. She shocks us, moves us, amuses us. She goes to places few authors have been before.
A powerful read.
June Caldwell worked for many years as a journalist and now writes fiction. Her story ‘SOMAT’ was published in the award-winning anthology The Long Gaze Back, edited by Sinéad Gleeson and was chosen as a ‘favourite’ by The Sunday Times. She is a prizewinner of the Moth International Short Story Prize and has been shortlisted for many others, including the Calvino Prize in Fabulist Fiction, the Colm Toíbín International Short Story Award, the Lorian Hemingway Prize, and the Sunday Business Post/Penguin Ireland Short Story Prize. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Queen’s University Belfast, and lives in Dublin.
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Review by B. F. Jones
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