BOOK REVIEW: Show Them A Good Time by Nicole Flattery

There are times, when reading a short story collection, that my interest dips. I’m half-way through, around four stories in, and only the opener has really hit the high mark that was promised. It becomes a task then, the finish the rest. Show Them A Good Time by Nicole Flattery is enthralling from start to finish – no dip, no task, no thought that perhaps the collection has been fleshed out with lesser pieces, the bookends the best part. In fact, by the time I reached ‘Sweet Talk’, number five of ten included, I was utterly engrossed.

A debut collection from a writer featured in a number of publications – The Stinging Fly, White Review, The Irish Times to name a prestigious few – Flattery is assured in her words, her style evident from page to page.

The opener ‘Hump’ sets the tone for the way in which Flattery explores humans, the choices they make, the roles they take on, who they are – her prose excelling when we are gifted insights into the character she’s created. Flattery too, presents another side to her writing – the twisting sense of the unexpected. Oddness is instant, but delivered quietly, as though you should’ve always known it was there.

In ‘Hump’ we come across a woman who is slowly developing a hunchback not long after moving into her recently deceased father’s house. In ‘Not The End Yet’ we find ourselves at the apocalyptic end of the world. The fact that this isn’t the main plot is refreshing. Instead we have Angela – early forties, divorced, teacher – who is partaking in meaningless dates as the world is about to implode. Disease is rife, China has been wiped out, but really, it’s Angela who holds all the attention. And so she should – a testament to how well Flattery writes characters, specifically women. Their voice crystal clear throughout.

This is carried in every piece penned – the strength of voice, of ‘person’. It’s a skill to write characters well – to make them believable people who exist beyond the page and the narrative they’ve been tied to. ‘Parrot’ is a prime example. The woman of the tale remains nameless [as do many of Flattery’s characters] but she is not an empty shell – someone who needs a name to become a person. Here the woman is trying to make connections to her step-son; trying to find something that will bring them closer together in Paris – a city neither of them know well. She hasn’t raised him, and that sense of ‘loss’, in all its forms, is palpable.

In ‘Sweet Talk’ we come across more women. [In fact, I don’t think I’ve read a collection full of so many differing female characters. It’s wonderful, I assure you.] ‘Sweet Talk’ is a coming-of-age piece minus the clichés. It’s a hot summer and women are going missing in the midlands. But there’s other things to think about – the narrator, a fourteen-year-old girl, is exploring the confusing element of teen-hood. There is a crush on an older Australian man too, and whilst I won’t give away the ending, Flattery delivers a knock out final image, one that rendered me still for well over a moment – the oddness of her stories making a superb return.

Oddness, or perhaps, the off-kilter, renders itself in ‘Show Them a Good Time’ too. A story that, once read, demands a repeat reading [it’s brilliant, truly, utterly, brilliant]. First featured in The Stinging Fly back in June 2016, ‘Show Them a Good Time’ is almost hard to quantify. Equal parts dark, equal parts comical, the piece delivers on everything from dialogue, characterisation [fully and completely], voice, deliberate word choice, to the unexpected. You cannot predict Flattery’s tales, and they work all the better for it. Here too, she explores the role of men and women in society – a theme she carries throughout. Each character in ‘Show Them a Good Time’ [both the story itself, and the collection as a whole] take on this mantel – who they are, what they mean to the world. It’s pitch perfect every time.

Track’ is another knock-out that begs the questions – who am I, what am I doing in this situation? What do I mean to this part of society? There’s a relationship between a young Irish woman adrift in New York City and a famous American comedian who suffers from repeated bouts of self-interest and panic about his career. Similar to many of Flattery’s tales, there is the delivery – deadpan, and the interplay of humour with utter darkness, which often go hand-in-hand with ease. You can see, upon first read, why the piece won the White Review short story prize – it opens itself like a wound, and invites all to take a long, immediate look. ‘You’re Going to Forget Who I Am Before I Forget Who You are’ does the very same, in an equally affecting manner. The dialogue between the two sisters of the tale is nothing short of wonderful – the ending tender without slipping into frailty.

The final piece I’ve yet to mention, ‘Abortion, A Love Story’ is the longest included. It is a piece, like many others [a good thing no less] which is written, or perhaps, presented to us, from a peculiar angle. What Flattery does is challenge us [me, you] to immerse yourself into writing that is not transparent. Rather, ‘Abortion, A Love Story’ is as sporadic as the two main characters – Lucy and Natasha, who are attending college in Ireland. We view their lives separately, until they meet under less than incidental circumstances, and we then follow on as they write a play that encapsulates elements of their own selves. The skill by which Flattery tells it is dazzling. Again, there is humour amongst the sadness, and there too, is commentary, via the play itself, on the roles of these two young women – not just in life in general, but at their college in Ireland, amongst the ‘other’ people, with whom they do not fit; the constraints set upon them about who they should be, how they should act – the ultimate goal to reject it all in the end.

Show Them A Good Time is a thrilling, confusing, beguiling, odd, and heartfelt [and much more] short story collection that demonstrates just how adept Nicole Flattery is. And one I’ll revisit again and again.

Show Them A Good Time is published by Bloomsbury Books and is available here.

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Nicole Flattery

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Nicole Flattery‘s work has been published in the Stinging Fly, the White Review, the Dublin Review, BBC Radio 4, the Irish Times, Winter Papers and the forthcoming 2019 Faber anthology of new Irish writing. Her story ‘Track’ won the 2017 White Review Short Story Prize. She is twenty-nine years old and lives in Galway.

Reviewed by Emily Harrison

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