Carys Bray’s Scott Prize winning debut short fiction collection is not for the faint hearted. These tales, most of them focused on mothers and fathers stumbling their way through parenthood, take in the broad emotional landscape of that most complex of relationships; the parent and the child. Some will have you smiling at the problems, recognising something of yourself in some aspect of the many and varied characters that people these stories, others will break your heart or have you squirming in your chair wanting to look away even as the steady turning of the story screws you into your seat.
The collection focuses largely upon the domestic, the breadth of tone and subject matter here sprialing the stories out into the realms of both fantasy and hard reality, sometimes simultaneously. In ‘Just In Case’ we sit beside a grieving mother as she agrees to watch over a neighbours baby, unable to look away as events seem about to tip and plummet into further tragedy. ‘I Will Never Disappoint My Children’ will have any parent feeling sympathy with its narrator’s struggle to do the best by her child, even as circumstance and the sheer unrelenting nature of parenthood trips her up and shatters her best intentions. In ‘Wooden Mum’ the physical damage done to a toy mirrors the inner turmoil of a mother as she deals with the myriad stresses of raising a child with Aspergers, and has one of the most moving final sentences in short fiction. ‘The Ice Baby’, ‘Sweet Home,’ and ‘The Baby Aisle’ are contemporary fairytales that stay true to the darker origins of the form, their attractive imagery sugar coating each tales darker aspects, making the story sweet to taste even as it surprises and scares.
Sweet Home is a collection that produces an effect greater than the sum of its parts, even considering the quality of each individual story. The stories, while unrelated, seem to speak to each other, creating an imaginary world so like our own, but scratch the surface and a fragile, darker and often more beautiful world waits to be discovered in which emotion is made tangible, visible. It is our world seen at a slant, a perspective which allows the reader to see things all the more clearly. These are stories unafraid to admit that imagination is a vital part of how we understand the world, how we understand those closest to us, and, ultimately, ourselves.
Read Carys Bray’s Life in Short Fiction here.