Reviewed by Linda Hepworth
I’d previously read Keith Rosson’s four novels (all published by Meerkat Press), giving each of them a 5* rating. The combination of the enthralling, imaginative, and frequently idiosyncratic, quality of his story-telling, his wonderfully vivid characterisations and his powerful evocations of time and place, is what makes them all remain vivid in my memory. However, prior to receiving an ARC of Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons I hadn’t read any of his short stories and wondered whether I could possibly find them as captivating and thought-provoking. To my delight I did, probably because all the qualities I so admired in his novels are present in each of the fifteen stories in this collection.
All too often I find that reading collections is a frustrating experience because my level of engagement usually varies considerably between the individual stories. However, I can truly say that every one of these stories almost took my breath away with their sheer brilliance, with their capacity to draw me in to the heart of the characters, following the trajectories of their journeys and experiences, however weird and unpredictable their final destinations and resolutions happened out to be.
The stories encompass not only many themes (loss, grief, fractured relationships, family trauma, loneliness, death, destruction, questions of identity, to name just a few) but also elements of magical realism, the supernatural, science fiction and horror. I marvelled at the fact that although the stories are apparently so disparate, they work extraordinarily well as a collection because even those featuring fantastical scenarios somehow feel recognisable because, at their heart, each one captures something essential about the human condition. Each character was so well-drawn that, whether likeable or disagreeable, their behaviour felt recognisable and their character traits ego-syntonic. Such vivid portrayals made it easy to feel almost immediately drawn into whatever dilemmas and challenges they were facing, to such an extent that once a story ended I usually felt so empathetically engaged that I needed time to reflect, then disengage, before moving on to the next story.
Although threads of sorrow, sadness and despair infuse many of the tales, these were usually offset by glimmers of hope and moments of wonderfully comic dark humour. For me this meant that I found the stories thought-provoking rather than depressing, and when I reached the end of each one I felt that sense of satisfaction which comes when a story has reached a satisfactory conclusion, however ambiguous that resolution might be.
Reading this collection has reinforced my appreciation of, and admiration for, the author’s use of language. His lyrical prose, his psychological insights, his wonderful similes and the richness of detail in his descriptions are what make his prose such a joy to read. I don’t want to highlight any of these unforgettable stories as favourites because the reality is that I immersed myself in each of the journeys the author’s fertile imagination took me on, relishing his sense of the weird, the idiosyncratic, the absurd, the ambiguous, as well as his willingness to explore the darker sides of human nature. These aren’t always comfortable stories to read but I found them immensely satisfying and I recommend them, without reservation, to any reader who appreciates thought-provoking writing which combines fantasy and reality in such an imaginative way.
With my thanks to Tricia Reeks at Meerkat Press for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Personal read: *****
Group read: ****
Meerkat Press 23rd February 2021
ISBN: 978-1-946154-52-1 Paperback
Read 8th/10th February 2021