‘People talk about their childhood and it’s so mundane. I don’t remember much about it, if I’m honest. I can’t even tell you what my father’s voice sounded like.’ In Stuart Evers’s story ‘Frequencies’, in this collection, a besotted new father hears this pronouncement coming from the baby monitor. The monitor is picking up a radio signal, so the sound of eight-month-old Jack’s precious snuffling is overlaid with hardheaded recollections of an anonymous speaker’s parents. ‘They were such dull people… I… pitied them even before I knew what the word meant.’ Eventually the juxtaposition grows too much for the father, and he smashes the baby monitor. Then he goes to see his son.
Jack looked at his father, eyes straight ahead. ‘Dull,’ the boy said. Clearly, distinctly… Dean picked up his son and put him to his chest. Tears were in his eyes. He held his beautiful son and wished Rachel was there to share in the moment.
This fault-line — the rift between our biology and our brains — is where the 12 stories of Evers’s second collection, Your Father Sends His Love, take place. As in his debut, Ten Stories About Smoking, Evers sticks to his chosen theme without repeating himself. He is impressively limber, darting round his subject to view it from multiple angles. In ‘Sundowners’, an unexpected yen for fatherhood ends Ross’s affair with Evelyn. In ‘Something Else To Say’, Noah waits in the pub for his best friend Rish, making a list of things to talk about — any subject that isn’t the death of Rish’s baby son. In ‘These Are the Days’ the reader’s sympathies are manipulated by both Ben and his middle-aged son Richard as they tussle for the affection of Richard’s daughter Anna.
Your Father Sends His Love is full of good ideas, but there are problems with execution. As in Ten Stories, there are clumsy perspective shifts — a story told almost exclusively from one viewpoint, with a few random paragraphs in someone else’s head. This feels lazy: an expedient decision rather than an aesthetic one.
Also lazy is a staccato rhythm Evers overuses to build (melo)drama.
This was shame. Ah yes, Anya, this was shame. His own fault. Brought on himself. A bad weekend. A bad couple of weeks. A bad month.
Characters are rarely drawn in detail — sometimes a compelling feature of Evers’s stark, Carveresque style, but also a major limitation. His talent for delivering a punchline is uneven — the baby saying ‘Dull’ in ‘Frequencies’, for example, comes as a disappointment at the end of an otherwise beautifully poised, haunting tale. At nearly 60 pages, the ambitious story is far too long for its weak, bleak concluding joke.
There are some wonderful things in here — notably the first and last stories (‘Lakelands’, ‘Live From the Palladium’) and ‘Something Else To Say’. Evers doesn’t quite live up to the promise contained in the best of Ten Stories About Smoking, however (‘Things Seem So Far Away, Here’ being a particular high point). Although he thinks Raymond Carver ‘the ultimate modern short story writer,’ he rails against Carver’s aversion to ‘tricks’ in short fiction: ‘Innovation,’ Evers writes, ‘is what keeps the short form vital and alive.’
Your Father Sends His Love is commendably full of innovation and vitality — but too many of these stories could do with a Lish and polish.
Available from the Spectator Bookshop, £11.69 Tel: 08430 600033