Helen Phillips’ new collection of short stories takes a darkling glance at the human condition through a dystopian gauze. The scenarios may be icily futuristic, but Phillips’ knack for truthful characterisation elicits much thought-provoking mileage from propositions such as how discovering the exact date of your death might affect the way you live your life, how a very squeamish person might cope if they could see through people’s skin to the blood and organs beneath and how to deal with the certain knowledge that your kids were aliens.
The solutions she comes up with are never less than inventive but don’t expect much levity amid the existential angst. The nearest to a fun time comes with ‘The MyMan Solution’, the tale of a dispassionate rich dame who chooses to live with a prototype robo-stud instead of a real man because the robot has zero hang-ups, stays out of the pub and goes at her like a jackhammer morning, noon and night. Until he doesn’t any more. It’s far from a new idea but Phillips’ take is a fresh blast of anarchic ribaldry.
As is often the case with short story collections, not everything hits the spot and ‘experimental’ generally equals less good. ‘Things We Do’, a treatise on human behaviour in 36 mini chapters, is stifled by its overly-engineered concept and the dual narrative of ‘Game’ over-eggs the pudding in a somewhat pretentious manner.
The collection really takes flight when Phillips allows herself space to develop her ideas more fully. The best here by far is ‘R’, the story of two semi-enslaved prostitutes who break free of their climate-controlled city to the strange countryside beyond. The alarming disorder this migration brings to their lives serves to separate and reunite them in unsettling ways, only the extended word count afforded to the story can do justice to.
An uneven but prescient collection worth checking out if you’ve been enjoying Black Mirror and The Handmaid’s Tale.
SOME POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS / AUTHOR: HELEN PHILLIPS / PUBLISHER: PUSHPIN PRESS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW