Benjamin Myers takes on the male psyche in all its fragility, complexity and failure, its hubris and forbidden tenderness, in his debut short story collection ‘Male Tears’. Cally Callomon reviews.
Imagine, if you will, a world that never knew David Bowie albums, a world where he only wrote and released hit single A-sides. Imagine the record company compiling these onto a Long Player, much as Motown did with most of their acts, and by so doing you may get close to the hit singles compilation book that is Male Tears, by the author of such previous hit long-players as The Gallows Pole, Pig Iron and The Offing.
Is this the next Myers book proper? Perhaps not. It is a compilation of hit seven-inch stories, all of them killer-no-filler.
At school we only ever took those ‘bands with albums’ seriously. Those top-of-the-pop hits were for my colleagues who never had their own record player, never went to see bands and who may just have bought The Jean Genie without much care as to who this David Bowie boy or girl was. We sniffed, yet all the time I knew that the seven inch single was actually The Pole Star.
The NME snorted that The Who’s Quadrophenia was simply ‘My Generation’ over four sides (four glorious sides) and deep down I knew that was probably true.
Many a book publisher will wail about how hard it is to sell short stories in any form, whereas many a reader will wail about how delightful it is to read them and not have to plough through yet another 600 page paperback in which all thread is lost if it is put down longer than a week.
Myers is as much a reader as he is a writer as he is a musician. It’s a rare gift to be able to write with the reader in mind, a rarer gift still to see a book collection in the same way as a musician may struggle over a tracklisting, a gift so often lost on the badly collated so-called mix-tapes of today. You’d never have got away with that on cassette.
I read these one at a time one per day, then pressed pause. Each story took me somewhere new with an echo of the previous tale in my head, each one stands alone and is just the right length, yet each could be an entire book if it only grew up and behaved the way books ought. I’m thankful for the fact that they didn’t.
They are glimpses, volleys and broadsides, suggestions and openings and probably far harder to write than a fat sprawling triple album like Sandinista! was.
There are treasures to be found here and there’s a David Bowie lyric buried inside like the sixpence in an Xmas pud, waiting to be found by the lucky all-knowing music snob who once was (and probably still is) me.