D. W. Wilson’s first collection of short stories Once You Break A Knuckle is refreshingly original, which may be partly due to the fact that they are set in the Kootenay Valley, Canada. Half way through his MA in Creative Writing programme at the University of East Anglia, Wilson decided to follow the old adage of write what you know, and the characters of Mitch and Will Crease were born, along with a whole cast of supporting characters who appear here and there throughout the collection.
The title Once You Break A Knuckle comes from one of the stories in the book and it seems to attract males in particular, as demonstrated by all of the male population of my family, starting from a seven-year-old, excitedly enquiring about the book as soon as it appeared. But the testosterone of breaking knuckles, grinding teeth and clenching jaws is just one side of the coin. On the other – sentimental, romantic, nice guys falling in love, admiring their dads, playing with their kids… Simple but complex humans with simple and yet complicated lives.
There’s Dunc in ‘The Dead Roads’, in love with Vic, ‘lacking the balls’ to give her the engagement ring he’s bought her ages ago but prepared to let his rival Animal get hit by a passing truck. There is Will Crease in ‘The Elasticity of Bone’, taking on his dad in a Judo fight and hoping that if he hurts him – ‘just a little’ – then his old man would miss his flight and wouldn’t have to go to Kosovo. Then there is Mitch Cooper in ‘Don’t Touch The Ground’, a thirteen-year-old boy who gets beaten up by a bunch of teenagers and saws off to within half an inch the branch of a tree where he knows they would be playing on the rope swing. We will meet Mitch again in ‘The Millworker’, this time a dissatisfied man who works eighty-two hour weeks to punish himself for disappointing his wife and his teenage son Luke.
D.W. Wilson has said in an interview that he can’t write about places while he’s there. The distance he is talking about can be felt through the stories, sometimes with a touch of nostalgia, at other times with the wisdom of an émigré, even though Wilson is planning to go back home at some point.
‘The Dead Roads’ won the 2011 BBC Short Story Award, and Wilson’s debut novel will be published next year.
Any Cop?: A powerful, intricate collection that is both charged with testosterone and tinted with romantic nostalgia.