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Alan Beard
Alan Beard

Born in Tewkesbury, Alan Beard, married with teenage daughters, has lived in Birmingham for twenty-five years. He works as a librarian for Birmingham City University and is secretary of a successful writers’ group. His stories have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and published in many literary magazines and anthologies in England and the USA. His previous  collection Taking Doreen out of the Sky (Picador) was widely praised

'The Terrible Changes' by Joel Lane

Alan Beard

I'm biased but these stories are worth 5 stars I reckon. All but one creeped me out. Themes of illness, sex (many different kinds), death, politics (prejudice, repression and state violence) and the desperate search for meaning and connection are illuminated by Lane’s use of the weird or supernatural. Latent forces break through at times or threaten to, eg in 'The Sleepers' anti war protesters attend a rally in London, and fall victim to aggressive police tactics but start to see faces in the icy Thames and then later through a freezing winter The faces were everywhere: on car roofs, in shop windows, even underfoot.. their silence underlay every sound. Some stories like this one are overtly political, and all - despite many having supernatural or metaphysical touches - are grounded in a ‘dirty realism’ of canals and stations and factories and offices and commuters and pubs that makes the use of the weird all the more powerful and unsettling.

 

Leamington Spa strangely appears a few times: that genteel town will appear different to me now such weird Lane-things have happened there (eg there’s a flood there in the first story which appears to change people’s behaviour and cause the isolation of the hero: his girlfriend disappears and her replacement leads him to an odd kind of communion).

 

A terrific imagination is at work here, with memorable images - in The Hard Copy (again set in Leamington) a gay lover leaves his bloodied impression on (bed)sheets, in ‘Face Down’ a corpse seen in the canal begins to haunt the protagonist until it appears beside him everywhere and the ending, when he tries to turn the body round is deeply disturbing. I like the images that Lane conjures, eg a vibrating phone shivered in my hand like a tiny bird (Alouette); The aeroplane lurched like an ice dancer with food poisoning (City of Love).

 

It’s best not to read too many of them at a time you might get giddy or sick. That’s a good thing.

 

The only one I didn’t like so much was ‘The Brand’, I seemed to lose my way in it (but noted that it was the earliest in the collection from 1985).


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