In this long-awaited debut volume, Jay Merill brings together her poignant stories of everyday life. Merill’s narratives are charged with restless energy, her characters seek to come to terms with disappointment, ambivalence and compulsion. Merill’s stories explore themes of transcendence, change and escape, often at odds with a fast-changing, indifferent world. In ‘Beacon’ Tilly lights candles on her dead plant to show the way to a better future. In ‘WatchTower’, Clara copes with her life by imagining she is a character in a play. Jay Merill’s distinctive writing captures every nuance of the tiny moments that transform us.
‘Jay Merill is the real thing – a genuine short story writer. That's a rarity. And something to be celebrated.’ —Toby Litt
‘JAY Merrill is a short story writer with an ability to spin a good tale. We watch her stories progress from the sidelines, worried as to where she will take us. Her characters are mainly weak and hesitant, but sometimes callously brutal.
Merrill handles the art of short story writing with skill. However, a collection of short stories by a single writer has a resemblance to a novel, especially here, because the names of characters may change, but they all come from what used to be termed the "lumpen proletariat."
This is today's Britain, where there is no work to be proud of, just rubbish jobs. Where cultural aspirations are non-existent, madness is rife, women protect themselves as well as they can and men are pitiful creatures, by and large immoral and with no concept of mutuality.
Merrill has a tremendous sense of humour and manages to retain empathy with this lost generation. In most of the stories, the characters acquiesce to their fate, but her most exciting tales are those where they try to do something about their life, even though the more they struggle the more they are swallowed up in the morass of despondency.
Of the 18 stories given here, the best are Blue Movie, a tale that'll either make you cry or laugh according to your temperament, The Outsider, which is as good as anything that Albert Camus, Colin Wilson or Anthony Burgess penned on the subject and the title story, which is as haunting as superstition is rife today.’ —John Rety
‘Merill’s range of literary form and accompanying style and tone is prodigious. The 18 stories include tragedy, comedy, comic tragedy, lyrical ballad, love story, elegy and playlet. All immediately readable, all with women protagonists going ‘against the grain’ in one way or another, the stories are pulled together by an undertow of myths... The title story is ostensibly about the sadness of a middle-aged woman with a small-time gambling habit. But under the straightforward narrative veneer, Isabel’s and her sister’s unorthodox frameworks of cause and effect are played out, creating a contrapuntal effect that swirls down and on, pulling ideas along with it... A story of a discarded present but with a definite and satisfying beginning, middle and end, ‘Astral Bodies’ exemplifies the gentle dualities – or dialectics, that most creative of logics- the book’s steeped in, and its flavour of the absurd. And even though Merrill’s a brilliantly clever writer, she doesn’t entangle her characters in Apollonian obfuscation... You could almost believe in the transformative power of art.’ —Judith Amanthis