'Let me start at the beginning, or what I think is the beginning,' says the unnamed narrator in the story, 'The Gentleman on The Train,' which makes up one of the twenty-five stories in this original collection by Nora Nadjarian, author of previous short story anthologies, Ledra Street (2006) and Girl, Wolf, Bones (2011) along with three further books of poetry. Each story here reflects true passion and intimacy through startling first-person narratives which are built around human contact. And, later on in the same story: 'Smashing girl. I’m a smashing girl, and I don’t even know it, because nobody’s ever called me a smashing girl before. I can just see myself going around, smashing men’s hearts and denting their lives with a hammer and asking them what they’ve done to deserve me.'
Nadjarian is a gifted wrier and in this book, she is at the top of her game. The story 'Truth' opens with 'At the exact moment my neighbour tells her lover “I’m leaving you,” a rainbow appears somewhere behind her.' This is the kind of fiction that shines light on blackness.
There are pleasing similarities with Raymond Carver and Franz Kafka, whom she writes directly about in the story 'Kafkaesque': 'He hated me till the day he died. He called me a schmuck and he was right.' The collection is full-to-bursting with characters who live with people they think they know but don’t - who speak in puzzlingly witty dialogue, and have us engrossed until the often-ugly outcome.
The author returns again and again to solitary women reconstructing their thoughts and desperate dreams: 'I’m a character in a play, but I’ve forgotten my lines ... In the kitchen my mother makes babies with flour and eggs ... My sister said she was carrying a bird inside her, a bird which would soon be drinking water out of her navel. “I am a cage,” said my sister.'
Nadjarian doesn’t concern herself with such old-fashioned basics as plot. Because life isn’t about plot, but about glimpses, moments. Some of these stories are just good moments, while others are purely wonderful.
About the reviewer
Lee Wright was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire in 1980 and has been writing both fiction and non-fiction since 2008. He is taking an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.