Monday, January 5, 2009

Retro Retro: Fictional Flashbacks edited by Amy Prior (2/81)

Category: Retro - Beats, Hippies, 1960s and Counter Culture.

This anthology of short stories has the theme of our collective obsession with the recent past and its culture. It brings together 16 writers who all come at the topic from a different angle, which results in a collection of stories of varying quality and interest.

Classic films and iconic film stars feature frequently in these stories, with settings including a vintage clothing shop, 1950s-themed drugstore and arts college.

My favourites were the stories where the retro element was explicit. I loved "Empty Boxes" by Nicholas Royle which is about a man's obsession with disused cinemas in London. I also enjoyed Joyce Carol Oates' story "Strand Used Books 1956" which is about a chance encounter with Marilyn Monroe in a bookshop. Tony White's "Jet Set Girls" humourously recreates 1960s Soho gangsters and the world of low brow publishing.

Christopher Kenworthy's "The Death of Blonde" imaginatively addresses the question of our need to record the past in museums. Editor Amy Prior contributes the most touching story in the collection, "Miss Shima" about a lonely Chinese woman's obsession with old-fashioned glamour.

The weakest story was "The Stock Exchange" by Matthew de Abaituo, sadly also the longest and I'm not sure how it fitted with the theme of the anthology. The same could also be said of Emily Perkin's "Let's Go" about young Westerners in Prague. It left me wondering if the publishers were just so keen to have contributions from certain writers that they just allowed any story from them to be included.

Overall the collection had more good stories than bad, and because they were all so different, I'm sure most people would be able to find something here to enjoy.

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