WHIRLWIND ROMANCE by Sam Thompson
Unsung Stories, p/b, £9.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
Effective writing can come at a variety of lengths, from the fifty-word mini-saga to the thousand-page novel. Very few authors are able to succeed at all lengths and tend to specialise once they have found the kind of writing they are best at. Most, however, will experiment with the various possibilities. It is often a question of finding the right voice. Sam Thompson has a smooth, compelling style of writing which is evident in all the pieces in this volume. They are a variety of lengths, and some are more successful than others.
The most satisfactory story is ‘One-Eyed Jack and The Suicide Queen’. It is also the longest and, as such, has the space to develop the characters. This is a fantasy, and Jack is a professional gamble, careful not to win too much before he moves on to the next town. He falls in with a young woman who is seeking revenge. It is a delightful story set against a background of a world with all the characteristics of the wild west. I would certainly read more stories about Jack’s travels and adventures.
Some of the pieces, although fragments of a life, show an understanding of the fears and obsessions of ordinary people. ‘Where You Are’ demonstrates the anxiety of a father whose child vanishes in a crowded street. There is added poignancy as we learn that the child is autistic and dearly loved, while the reactions to others not understanding the situation are realistic and unnerving. ‘Whirlwind Romance’ also shows an understanding of off-beat personalities. Twelve years after falling in love with Jamie during a fifteen-day relationship, Fern is still obsessed with him but realises that she needs to tread carefully if he is not to disappear. She’d rather have his friendship some of the time rather than no contact at all.
Thompson is at his best when writing about relationships and is equally comfortable narrating from a male or female point of view. In ‘The Red Song’, Flora Hardy steps out of her comfort zone and away from a domestic relationship to follow a research fellowship into the work of a revolutionary poet from the newly democratised country of Hesperus. The horror in this story is implied in the symbolism. In ‘Eurydice Box’, the problem relationship is with Eurydice’s mother. The woman objects to her daughter’s lifestyle as someone struggling to bring up a child.
‘Pilgrim Hinterlands’ almost seems like a warning against the addiction to computer games. In this case, the narrator hides his problem, which has developed as he finds it difficult to cope with the stress his partner is experiencing while dealing with his father’s last days.
While some of these stories are well-rounded and satisfying, others feel as if they are snippets waiting to be included in something longer or waiting for a proper ending. This is often the problem with flash fiction. It needs to be short, but the length isn’t always enough to tell the story properly. It makes for frustrating reading.
Thompson is not a writer who is easy to categorise. Some of his stories are contemporary, others pure fantasy – of different kinds – but others have touches of horror or science fiction. The result is that each piece is different and, at times, unexpected.