Crying Just Like Anybody is the fourth anthology from The Fiction Desk, a collective that began in 2007 as book bloggers and editors, but soon evolved into the publishers of new and emerging fiction that we see today. The introduction to this latest collection very honestly discusses the current publishing industry. According to editor Rob Redman, despite all other appearances, the publishing game is about personal taste. Crying Just Like Anybody represents the taste of him and his colleagues.
These tastes seem to favour a controlled, sometimes sparse, prose style, nothing too elaborate or poetic. Other than those elements, the tastes are quite eclectic. Amongst these ten stories we have tales about suspected Martians discovered and locked away by Brooklyn based teenagers, an eerie doll known as a phantom that haunts a young girl’s life, a man dealing with his wife’s Brian Cox obsession at the same time as trying to resist an affair with his overweight tenant, and the sadder, more simple tales, like Matthew Licht’s ‘Across the Kinderhook’, a tender account of a young girl who never speaks and an encounter that brings her out of herself. For me, this was the standout story.
But there are highlights throughout, particularly in the first half. The title story by Richard Smyth, which deals with ideas of otherness and immigration in a very unique fashion, is a particular strongpoint. S R Mastrantone’s ‘Just Kids’, which looks at the ASBO generation and questions reactions and overreactions to their behaviour, is a dryly humorous and adroit consideration of modern society. And Colin Corrigan’s ‘Wonders of the Universe’, the Brian Cox based story mentioned above, is a comic, heartbreaking, and truly original consideration of a crumbling modern marriage.
Unfortunately, the quality drops somewhat towards the end. After ‘Across the Kinderhook’ and Die Booth’s ‘Phantom’, the stories become, while by no means bad, slightly more throwaway and uninspiring. The originality that exists in the early stories seems to wane and diminish, or when the originality still exists, in ‘Me, Robot’ by Mike Scott Thomson, the delivery is not as impressive or striking as in earlier counterparts. The later stories are decent, but, unlike those that have come before, they’re not outstanding.
Any Cop?: The editors have chosen well here, and the first half of the book is more than entertaining. It’s original, unique, and thought-provoking. Maybe the early high standard has led to a slightly harsher critique of the latter stories, but it does seem as if the quality of submissions led to a sliding scale throughout the collection. But Fiction Desk is an emerging force and the stories in this anthology do suggest a continued improvement. The collection is worth buying for those moments when it really shines, and there are certainly more peaks than troughs.