Review for Atheism Jab and other stories

‘The Atheism Jab and Other Stories’  *****   

     There’s an axiom out there that doesn’t apply to this book in the slightest. It is simply, ‘no one gives a shit about short story collections,’ and it has countless published but unloved examples to back it up. Critics have tried to give reasons to explain it, from ‘readers can’t get involved enough’ to there’s ‘no character in them’, and they’re not completely wrong, but they do miss an important point. Perhaps THE most important point when dealing with a reading public that has almost stopped reading.

      It is, all of these collections are delivered to the reader in the same way; through the production line of the industry, those dirty ‘fiction machines’

      But this collection, as I said above, is different.

      What if the process was changed? What if the author genuinely didn’t give a shit if he got that bookshelf in Page One or not?

      This is that guy and this is his process.

      Everything in this book is upside down. The “praise” on the first few pages is overwhelmingly negative. The blurb that should be on the back cover is on the inside back, probably the last place you’d look. And the writer behind it all is an enigma. An East German, who the book claims was exiled in 1978 and then disappeared two years later off the shores of Japan. How the hell is he writing now?

      Who knows? And really, if you’re asking questions at this point then it’s already got your attention.

      And the stories, do they deliver?

      Undoubtedly, they do, and they carry the same spirit as the packaging.

      There’s the ludicrous satire of the opening article and its philanthropist subject using up his fortune in an attempt to house the homeless of Hong Kong. A reporter, who has his own issues even within his own reportage, goes on from that story to explore the methadone clinics in Wan Chai, a new School of Dialectic where there’s no syllabus, and even meets burnt out celebrity, Tom Sizemore, who takes control of the night and the action, and probably offers the most energetic, dazzling story of the bunch.

      Elsewhere there’s a surprisingly moving five-pager about a young girl fighting with her sister for the lions share of her mother’s love; a dark, haunting fairytale set in a sleazy and slightly skewed nightmare version of Kowloon; a man comatose and held captive in his own village house by an angry young man, whose mission is to drug him into the mindset of Atheism; and an elliptical piece where a lonely intellectual brings back the satirist, Voltaire, to act as his companion.

      The style changes with each story, from first person to third, stream of consciousness to spare, flat prose, yet the author seems comfortable with whichever costume his stories put on. He rarely writes with a capital ‘DoubleYou’, avoiding poetry and florid descriptions that blatantly wouldn’t fit into his worldview anyway, and the slight lyrical escapes that he allows himself are firmly in character. In fact, the best moments come when the stories and the characters are at their most ludicrous, and Puncher lets himself off the leash a little.

      All in all, the book delivers what its bold, original marketing strategy promises. Something different.

      Frankly, you must buy this book. Where you might buy it is a different matter.

      But you still must buy it. It’s Brilliant.

Review by Gupter Puncher

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