By Invitation Only, a collection of short stories from Unbound Press and Spilling Ink Review, ironically enough, came into my life uninvited. I won it in a competition I was only vaguely aware I had even entered – a promotional act by Unbound Press on Facebook and Twitter where new followers were entered into a draw to win a copy of the book. I followed because I wanted to, and my brain filtered out the competition posting, since one of the unwritten Laws of My Life is â€œI Donâ€™t Win Competitionsâ€. Nice to be wrong sometimes.
Each of the fifteen stories in the collection is, in its own way, an invitation â€“ to watch, participate, empathise and despair. There is no overarching theme, but many stories do touch on matters of sexuality, class, relationships, the modern world. Common enough topics, but it is in those moments of the seemingly mundane that sometimes the profound is discovered.
There are excellent, cleverly written explorations of such topics in the stories of Viccy Adams, Louise Hume and Ian Madden. In particular, Defne Cizakcaâ€™s â€œThe Bridgeâ€ is a wonderful tale of love in the city of Istanbul, with an air of magical realism about it; vibrant, colourful prose fills every sentence. Also, Kirsty Loganâ€™s â€œThe Rental Heartâ€ is an achingly beautiful fairy tale, sad and ambiguous.
However, it is when you delve into the tales that step out of the ordinary and into the darker, stranger worlds of this collection that you find truly rewarding, inspiring pieces of fiction.
Sarah Crosslandâ€™s â€œHauntingsâ€ left me quite awestruck. The story of one womanâ€™s whole life, told in sections titled by the names of famous writers â€“ Sappho, John Keats, Edgar Allen Poe, F Scott Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf â€“ the spirit of each â€˜hauntingâ€™ the narrator, their deaths hanging over her life at that point, filling it with ghosts and nightmares, until she begins to become more like those that haunt her. It is a tautly written piece of work, both an exploration of one womanâ€™s dysfunctional life and a history of literature.
â€œThe Man Who Would Follow Bearsâ€ by Kurt Caswell is an altogether different kind of story, about the history of a small town in the US, founded by German migrants. It reads more like an article you would find in a Sunday newspaper supplement, with faded black and white photographs and pictures of the author. In fact, it works so well, with its documentary evidence and even a dedication at the beginning (which may or may not be genuine) that I found myself at points thinking that this was indeed a true story. Itâ€™s that kind of questioning that kept me glued to Mark Z Danielewskiâ€™s House of Leaves â€“ fact, fiction, or a melding of the two? You decide.
Not every story left me feeling so good. Some were simply not to my personal taste and so didnâ€™t move me â€“ not bad writing or bad stories, just not my thing. There were, however, one or two that I didnâ€™t think worked at all. Max Dunbarâ€™s â€œMuscle & Bloodâ€ left me wondering what the point was â€“ another story about drunk people having drunken encounters late at night? Donâ€™t we have enough of those already? Roderick Craig Lowâ€™s â€œAnywhere, Anything, Anyoneâ€ actually offended me with an obvious plot, irritating opening section, and what I felt was a totally out-of-context reference to drowning kittens in its closing moments.
Despite a few misfiring pieces, By Invitation Only is a strong and varied collection of stories. That not everything worked for me has more to do with my own tastes than the quality of writing. For a book that banged loudly on my front door first thing in the morning and invited itself into my life, it has turned out to be rather pleasant house guest.
By Invitation Only is available from Spilling Ink.
Kenny Mooney lives and works in Glasgow, Scotland.