There is a small beach town outside of London, surrounded by saltmarshes and old World War II bunkers, filled with birds, punks, a vampire hunter, and memories. You might go up there to see an Exhibition about the inhabitants of the town, or you might go up there to get away from the trains and people of London. It might be the place you look to as you remember better times or maybe it’s where you take your wife to show her the places you visited as a child. The town has a name, Kent, but for the characters in Gary Budden’s connected short story collection, they remember it as the “Hollow Shores”
“Hollow Shores” is a collection of short stories that are all connected by the beach town and the people who lived there at one time. Some of the characters lived there in the past, some currently, and some will live there in the future. Budden challenges you to to determine where you are within the timeline of their lives. Each story reveals a bit more about the different characters, maybe a bit of their past, or maybe you’ll see where they currently are, or maybe you’ll find out how their life is going to turn out. Yet through all of the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey of it all they are all connected in some way to the town.
Budden must of had a big bulletin board with lots of different lengths of yarn and paper to organize all of his characters and their connections. I could give you the names of Simon, Ade, Jess, John, Lisa, and Helena, but you could just as easily replace them with your friends’ names. And some characters in the background of one story might be the main character of another story. If this seems like it might be overwhelming or will give you a headache, don’t worry, about a quarter way through the book it’ll all click and you’ll find yourself excited to see where he is going to take us next. It is an amazing feat to witness how Budden weaves the stories all together in a logical way without missing a step.
I did find it disorienting at first. Jumping from one character to the next, from third person to first person, but it smoothed out into a decent rhythm. It’s like digging through someone’s thoughts, they are not all going to be collected in a neat orderly fashion. You are going to see the big events of their lives, and it is up to you to put it all together. There is a great quote in the short story Spearbird that I think sums up the book perfectly.
“A lot blends together,” he says. “It’s only now that I’m trying to pick it all apart and stick it back together again in a way that makes sense.”
London and Kent play a big roll in “Hollow Shores”. Budden makes London feel confining and old, overrun by Japanese Knotweed and empty cans of beer. Kent on the other hand is a town on the water, with lots of open space for the characters to explore. They watch the birds, look out towards islands, drink in old pubs. Each of the characters look to Kent as this place to run to, idealizing their memories of childhood. The two towns are an important part to the story and how it affects our characters.
“Hollow Shores” is all about memory and loss. Couples divorce, mothers die, the clubs you went to as a teen close down, friendships end, the town you once loved becomes what you hate. But as you go through the lives of the characters you see that you can take these memories and use them to propel you forward.
Besides the theme of memory and loss, Budden uses the punk movement as a through line in the stories. The majority of characters were punks when they were in their early twenties. This idea really struck a nerve with me, I can remember being that kid hanging out on the curb in front of a punk show. I can remember judging the wannabe punks that didn’t remember a venue because it was shut down to be replaced by a coffee shop. There are some wonderful scenes of characters lamenting how the crowd has changed and it is just not the same anymore. I will admit I did have to look up some of the names mentioned in the story, since I wasn’t in London during this time, but I could still appreciate the sentiment.
“Hollow Shores” gives you a lot to unpack, a lot of images and scenes that stick with you after you are finished. There are a lot of beautiful stories in the book, some might strike a nerve more than others. I found a bit of myself in each of the characters, glimpses of memories I might have shared or thoughts that have crossed my mind. While I found myself wanting to see more, I know that Budden picked the right moments in their lives to show me.
“Hollow Shores” is a crazy mindwarp of a collection that will have you telling yourself one more story, one more glimpse into the memories of these characters’ lives, when you know you should go to bed.
Gary Budden is the co-director of Influx Press. His work has appeared in Structo, Elsewhere, Unthology, The Lonely Crowd, Gorse, Galley Beggar Press and many more. He writes about landscape punk at newlexicons.com.
Hollow Shores is available from Dead Ink support Independent Publishing by purchasing directly from Dead Ink Books here.
Review by Matt Brandenburg
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