‘Moments of magic throughout’ – Shut Up/Look Pretty by Lauren Becker, Erin Fitzgerald, Kirsty Logan, Michelle Reale and Amber Sparks

ImageShut Up/Look Pretty is an anthology collecting together the works of five widely published contemporary female authors, all of whom, at times, provide ample evidence of their talent and ability. The book mixes a great deal of flash fiction with some more standard length short stories and a novella that acts as the centrepiece. It’s an interesting collection, with some moments of magic throughout, but, upon completing it, I was left wondering why it exists as a collection at all. There is a great diversity in the writing, with each author bringing their own style, theme, genre, and target audience. Whilst this is not necessarily a bad thing, is does leave the reader wondering what it is that holds this collection together. With such diversity, the construction of the piece feels awkward, and sheds an unflattering light on some of the good work that exists within.

Lauren Becker opens the collection with a series of flash fiction. While at times her work is the most impressive on offer, with stories such as ‘Rituals’ and ‘Things About Me and You’ standing out as examples of flash fiction at its best, the similarity of tone and voice in each of her stories, and her penchant for repetition, does grate after sixty pages. As individual stories published separately there are some powerful pieces of writing. Together, they fall a little flat.

Erin Fitzgerald again offers the reader some inspired moments. Taken in isolation, stories such as ‘Where Did it All go Wrong’ and ‘This Morning Will be Different’ are wonderful snapshots of a world, quick insights into their character’s lives that carry enough weight to enthral in just a couple of hundred words. Unfortunately, not enough of the stories do this. Too many leave you with unanswered questions, and do not do enough to captivate. This may have been fine if each story could be taken on its own merits, but when they are collected together in this way, it becomes difficult to read, at times dull, and close to exasperating.

‘Local God’ is Kirsty Logan’s novella and the book’s centrepiece. It deals with a punk band and their complicated love triangle, which may be a square or even a pentagon. By the time the reader reaches this work, it is a welcome relief to be away from the world of flash fiction. The characterisation and pace of the novella are pitched perfectly and Logan clearly knows how to keep the reader intrigued. The issue with this work is as a piece of this particular collection. Everywhere else we are dealing with flash and very short fiction and then the novella pops up in the middle, also, seemingly, with a different audience in mind. The tone of the piece is very ‘young adult’ and unlike the rest of the anthology it seems to be aimed at a teenage audience. This is not to its detriment. It is the most captivating and enjoyable part of Shut Up/Look Pretty. But it does add to the questions about this work as a whole.

Moving further into the collection, we have more flash from Michelle Reale before some slightly longer stories by Amber Sparks. For this reviewer, this is where the collection really begins to struggle to hold the reader. While not doubting that both writers have ability, the reading of this as an entire collection is a strange and disembodied experience. Apart from in the novella nothing ever grabs and sustains the reader’s interest. By the final two sections, this has become frustrating and any actual spark in the writing is hidden under a lack of cohesion.

Any Cop? Coming at this book differently, maybe picking a story out once a day or even a week, or just hitting upon these stories in their original publications, may have engendered a very different perspective on the writing. As it is, the anthology manages to be both too diverse and at times too monotonous; the brilliance that occasionally exists is undermined by strange decisions over structure and inclusion. The title Shut Up/Look Pretty hinted at a theme that may have held this collection together in a more effective manner. Unfortunately, that theme never presented itself.

Fran Slater


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