Charlie Hill’s fascinating collection is a tidy reminder that we are all on the mental health spectrum. Every day one sees madness or experiences it in one form or another, as we go about in the world − I know I do!
Opening these splendid off-kilter stories is ‘A walk by the river’ that’s written in the second-person perspective, which grabs the reader’s attention straight away. Hill magnifies a family outing with a nod to the film Deliverance. I have to confess that the frenetic ‘Duelling Banjos’ twanged in my head when I perused this passage: ‘The fish wriggles in the father’s hand and, holding it by its tail, he smashes its head against a stone and tosses its unwanted body into the water. The boy laughs. It is not a pleasant laugh.’ What should be a halcyon walk turns into a brooding ordeal for our detached protagonist and kicks Hill’s collection off, majestically.
In Hill’s captivating ‘Stuff,’ existential angst and anxiety disorder are tackled with humour and aplomb. The nullifying grind of the everyday is deftly realised in elegant style. Hill’s Kafkaesque protagonist gets a dose of inner-city blues over seven days. I loved the hilarious interior monologue conducted whilst he’s walking to the shops on Monday, concerning the fascist household on his route: ‘I think there must be all manner of social-anthropological connections between garden centres and fascism.’ Moreover, Hill’s authentic portrayal of anxiety disorder is spot-on, too. It is well defined and captures someone in mental freefall, exquisitely. In this respect, Hill’s text reminded me of an Akira Kurosawa’s quote: 'In a mad world, only the mad are sane.'
There are no weak narratives within Hill’s collection. Whether flash fiction or short story, all hold the reader throughout. I found this collection, with its superb West Midland detailing, very compelling. ‘The man in the churchyard’ exemplifies this: ‘Through Highgate and into Balsall Heath there is an Islamic Centre and the Moseley Road baths – Men First and Second Class; Listed, with Victoria in its bricks – and a carpet warehouse and shuttered curry houses and then fruit and veg shops with shopkeepers arranging plastic bowls of fruit out front like a market, oranges and tomatoes and mooli and chard. Then there is Zaffs.’
Hill’s urban sensibility inhabits every inch of Encounters with Everyday Madness and this is truly standout writing, which deserves an audience. Highly recommended.
Laurie Cusack (PhD) studied Creative Writing at Leicester University. He writes from the gut − from the underground − about the underdog. His collection of short stories The Mad Road was published in September 2023. He is now an actor-simulator, writer and community advocate.