Books

SHORT STORIES

SHORT STORIES

THE SECRET LIVES OF CHURCH LADIES by Deesha Philyaw (One £14.99, 224pp)

THE SECRET LIVES OF CHURCH LADIES 

by Deesha Philyaw (One £14.99, 224pp) 

Deesha Philyaw’s debut collection is outstanding. The nine stories here chart the experiences of black women who attend church but cannot abide the raft of restrictions placed on them. The church wants purity and propriety, but these tough, tender, conflicted women want more expansive, emotionally generous lives. 

Raging and aching and joyful, these vividly drawn characters tackle sexual shame, fraught mother-daughter relationships, absent fathers and sibling loyalty with a hard-won wisdom, recognising how ‘something can feel right and wrong at the same time’. There’s Caroletta — who’s in love with her best friend — ‘a true believer’ (Eula), the irrepressible, queer teenage Jael, whose great-grandmother thinks she’s ‘an abomination’, and Olivia, who wants to be ‘free of other people’s secrets’, as she’s intertwined in a complex skein of connections between her mother, a married preacher and the preacher’s son (Peach Cobbler). 

REWARD SYSTEM

by Jem Calder (Faber £14.99, 304pp) 

Jem Calder’s cool, particularised stories chronicle the daily dissatisfactions of a drift of young adults who are struggling with high rents, boring jobs, squeezed ambitions and the kind of ongoing aimlessness that leads to loneliness. 

Dating apps and social media only seem to foster a faltering sense of self-worth, and his interlinked characters hone in on the minutiae of their lives searching for significance. 

There’s Julie, an assistant chef in a controlling relationship with her much older boss, who eventually refuses to ‘live inside your very small idea of me’ (A Restaurant Somewhere Else); there’s her stupified-by-drink ex-boyfriend Nick, who eternally vows to ‘stop making the same mistakes over and over’ (Better Off Alone), as elsewhere colleagues watch porn at the office (Search Engine Optimisation).

LUCKY BREAKS by Yevgenia Belorusets (Pushkin Press £9.99, 112pp)

LUCKY BREAKS 

by Yevgenia Belorusets (Pushkin Press £9.99, 112pp)  

‘You can’t really live in this country — you’re threatened from every side at every moment,’ says the narrator of Lena In Danger, one of the heroines of Belorusets’s debut collection of fragmented, fractured stories, first published in Ukraine in 2018. 

Set in Donbas, the women, many of them refugees, displaced or economically impoverished, find themselves constructing surreal narratives in an attempt to capture the strangeness of living a life under bombardment. 

They check horoscopes for the likelihood of being shelled (The Stars), ponder the mysterious disappearance of The Manicurist and head to an off-kilter cafe where a waitress’s lovely dreams provide a beguiling buttress against the stark reality of their besieged lives (The Seer Of Dreams).

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