THE DAY THE RAINS CAME.
I gave this story first prize because, quite simply, it gave me most pleasure to read. A comic re-telling of the Book of Genesis was a daring subject, but it worked. A set of short dialogues between God and an uncomprehending – but very human – Noah, with the minimum of comment. The language is simple, conversational. The laconic last line is brilliant. ‘They landed. They went forth. They multiplied.’
I particularly liked God’s curse ‘Medammit.’
This story works because it is more than humorous – there is in it an impliciot comment on human life.
THE PERFECTION OF TEN.
An arresting title and a most unusual theme and hero. There is a wonderfully vivid description of the chase of the whale, the sinking of the whaleboat and Jericho Comstock’s fight to stay alive by climbing onto the creature he has killed. This echoes Moby Dick – but does not suffer in the comparison.
Jericho has an IQ of 91, is a ‘simpleton son’ who can only just count up to ten by using his fingers. Counting to ten is necessary for his sense of self worth. Life’s tragedy is shown by the fact that the man who manages to survive on the whale has to have one hand amputated – now he will only be able to count to five.
ROSEMARY FLOWERS ARE BLUE.
Only gradually do we realise that this story is set in the sixteenth century, the realisation makes the theme a universal one. At first a picture of a happy rural existence and then tragedy caused by unreasoning prejudice. There is nothing the narrator can do as he sees his wife killed, the harsh message is that life is like that.
This is a sensory story. There is precision in the way we feel we can touch, taste, smell, hear, see. Images are clear. ‘She was already in the doukin’ stool, bent double, her fingers tied to her toes.’
This is a story that is hard to forget.
LAST OF THE SAND DRAGONS.
This story is built on an image. The sand dragon is an emblem, something that must be completed before the tide can return and destroy it. As Michael builds the dragon we get hints of the reason for it. His drowned son wanted one. But this is to be the last sand dragon, after this Michael will have worked his way to peace. He will have a second son, a second chance. He will find happiness - though he will always be wary.
Another story that attracts by the precision of its imagery. ‘a lone barnacle-encrusted rock that bulges from the sand like a stranded turtle.’
A witty, bitter-sweet account. At first, when she goes to bed Rita enters her ‘secret sensual world of chocolate, love and lust.’ At the end of the story she has changed. She crunches peanut brittle and reads murder stories. The humour comes from Rita watching Ernie and her mother and coming to the appalling realisation that her mother has a more successful love life than she does. We sympathise – a bit.
A clever use of images to define a scene. ‘They wandered round examining warm winter vests, boiled sweets and cabbages.’
NEVER THE SAME ADVANTAGES.
A frighteningly subtle story. We are never quite sure about the relationships between the brothers Les and Edward or between Les, his wife Vivienne and his children. Just one sentence sets the tone. ‘He’d take the ruler from his desk drawer, call the children in, see their breath quiver on the cold air as they bent over in front of him.’
The ending is powerfully inconclusive.
This is an odd story. It starts strongly, with a party and two men who are attracted to each other. The relationship doesn’t prosper and Gray starts to stalk Steven. Steven finally invites Gray for a meal and poisons him with strychnine. The ending doesn’t follow naturally from the main body of the story. This is a pity, as the dialogue and details are otherwise very competent.
FIRST FLAME. This is a well-plotted story. A happily married woman lies in her bath, listening to the details of domestic life around her and at the same time remembering a love affair in school. She played Lady Macbeth and fell for the boy playing Macbeth. He was her first flame. The two lives are compared and she decides she is happier now. The strength of the account lies in the way she has given up the meretricious life of an actor and chosen the realism of domesticity. She has kept her soul.
Another account of an unhappy family. The death of a child means that the other three can never again be happy together. A sad suggestion that some things can never be forgotten. Perhaps a bit too gloomy – but the family inter-relationships are very well described. It is interesting to compare this story with Last of the Summer Dragons which also dealt with the death of a child but with hope at the end.