I find short story collections extremely hard to review but this is the case even more so when the collection of stories is an anthology made up of various authors because there is such a huge span of talent and writing throughout. Sex and Death, edited by Sarah Hall and Peter Hobbs is an incredibly varied grouping of stories all about how we come into this world and how we go out. Yes; the topics are somewhat similar but each artist does have their own take on what sex and death means — as they rightly should — so we’ve got a mixed bag of treats with this one. We’ve got stories about loved ones recently deceased, a woman developing a sex addiction because of a growing tumor in her brain — even a tale of a new mom agonizing over a recently developed anal fissure shortly after her baby’s birth (!!!). There is literally something for everyone.
My favorite story was oddly titled “Porto Baso Scale Modellers” by Alan Warner, which was one of the most clever and hilarious things I have read in some time. It’s about a group of middle aged men who take their hobby of assembling miniature models of planes very seriously when a gorgeous, sex-addicted woman joins their group because she has a remarkable talent for their nerdy little endeavor. I could read this story over and over again — I loved it so much. And many other stories were very well-written, “The Postcard” by Wells Tower in particular had some beautiful turns of phrase. This one stuck out for me:
“Still, she had wished she had not heard the story, which was like a giant crystal chandelier Clement had put into her hands with instructions to never set it down” (p. 70).
Despite the above stories mentioned, I can’t say I really loved this book. Many of the stories were unremarkable — things I just wanted to get through until I was done the book. I really enjoyed a few of the stories and disliked, or was bored, by many others. Even the Canadian contributions to this international collection let me down — which I’m ashamed to write but would feel untruthful if I didn’t mention.
Many people shy away from short story collections — and now I think I see why. Once you’ve finished reading all the stories you don’t get the satisfaction of having completed a novel —
even if you didn’t really like it. I don’t want to say reading this was a waste of time because I discovered some authors I would have never know about, but I think the collection could have done with a more discerning edit.
About The Editors
Sarah Hall is the author of the novels Haweswater, The Electric Michelangelo, Daughters of the North, How To Paint A Dead Man, and The Wolf Border. Her first collection of short stories, The Beautiful Indifference, won the Portico Prize for Fiction 2012 and the Edge Hill short story prize, and was also short-listed for the Frank O’Connor Prize. She lives in Norwich, UK.
Peter Hobbs is the author of two novels, The Short Day Dying and In The Orchard, The Swallows, as well as a collection of short stories, I Could Ride All Day in My Cool Blue Train. His work has won a Betty Trask Award, and been shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the John Lewellyn Rhys Prize, and the Whitbread First Novel Award. He lives in London.