Show Them A Good Time
By Nicole Flattery
The Stinging Fly Press
In recent years a vanguard of Irish writers, mostly women, has emerged to continue an Irish tradition: that of punching above its own literary weight. Nicole Flattery, whose short story, ‘Track’, won the 2017 White Review Short Story Prize, is its latest lodestar, and promises much with her debut collection, Show Them A Good Time. Flattery’s work is striking from the get-go: exuberant, absurd, relevant but often oblique, its perspicacity is of a wholly different and darker order to that of another trailblazer, Sally Rooney, whose deft realism is always proffering the thrills of identification and relatability, her acuity for observation everywhere on show. Flattery’s stories, on the contrary, present kernels of normalcy garishly embroidered; the frisson they offer is unruly and irreverent, and what they may or may not have to say about the Zeitgeist requires parsing. The characters around which the stories are structured are almost frighteningly autonomous, their reflections eccentric.
The collection’s opening story, eponymously titled, presents a kind of millenial hellscape: ‘the schemes were for people with plenty of time, or people not totally unfamiliar with being treated like shit’. As with the stories to follow, the comforts of particularity – of place, especially – are withheld. Everything is instead collapsed into a creepy, askew generality: its narrator and her co-workers are subordinate to people only ever referred to as ‘management’; in ‘Abortion, A Love Story’, ‘the unemployment building’ looms inevitable for those anathematized for having failed to ‘develop financial ideas’; In ‘Track’, the narrator’s boyfriend is known only as ‘the comedian.’ The latter is a brilliantly written short story, textured by a sad, wistful anonymity. Its mood is as claustrophobic as the cupboard the narrator at one-point confines herself to, and its tone equivocal, alienated.
With many of the stories in this collection, even upon re-reading, you feel you don’t quite ‘get’ them, and they’re all the stronger for it. Tonally, they are at times reminiscent of the Greek film director Yorgos Lanthimos’ deadpan, uncanny valley absurdism, where recognizable cultural motifs are dilated just to the point of semantic implosion, often with hilarious effect.
Flattery’s prose manages to be both crisp and effusive, discursive but never prolix. Lexically, it’s as richly unpredictable as her characters: ‘end-of-the-world eyes’ is a description both original and seamlessly apt; the verbal reversal effectuated in the phrase, ‘he moved me in’, is subtle and at the same time starkly revealing. Flattery is not immune, though, to the odd lazy metaphor, ‘concentration-camp legs’, being one. In ‘Hump’, the excrescence after which the story is titled is described as being both like a ‘a second layer of flesh’ and having a ‘hard roundness’ – a classic case of mixed metaphors.
Any such malapropisms, though, are rare. Stylistically and thematically, Show Them A Good Time is wonderfully weird, and yet never slips into gratuitous oddity, as varieties of absurdism are apt to. There is much to anticipate in Flattery’s novel to-come, and much to appreciate here.
Words: Luke Warde