Wry, absurd, and almost casually poignant—Nicole Flattery’s writing feels like a genre of its own.
Almost as soon as you start this book, you can tell that you’re reading something different; it’s the kind of book that makes you tilt your head to side. Whatever direction you expect these stories to go in, they go in the opposite direction. Flattery approaches her subject matter—women experiencing turmoil of some kind, whether it be physical abuse, emotional abuse, bereavement, abortion—obliquely, giving you just enough to understand that her characters have all of this lurking in their inner lives, but not enough for you to fully understand the extent of its impact on them. There is so much implied meaning in these stories; you’re given the tip of the iceberg and expected to infer the size of the structure that lies beneath it. And this style of writing is really the perfect strategy for a short story: it gives you enough information to feel like you know something substantial about these characters, but not so much that they’re rendered transparent or caricatured.
“I said that I had to leave to discover things about myself. I withheld the fact that there wasn’t much to discover. Just ordinary surface and, beneath that, more desperate surface.”
“In that brief moment everyone saw my mind and my mind was absent of all ideas. I thought I would be a different person by this time in my life, but I was actually becoming less like someone else and more like myself. It was troubling.”
Though these stories deal with serious subject matter, they also don’t take themselves too seriously. Flattery doesn’t strictly rely on a sense of realism in her narratives, but instead goes in slightly absurd, off-kilter directions. The stories in this collection are told with a wry, deadpan sense of humour, one that buoys them and prevents them from getting bogged down in melodramatic territory. Though Show Them a Good Time is sometimes facetious in dealing with subject matter you would maybe expect it to take seriously, it’s also not flippant and invests in moments that matter to its characters.
Show Them a Good Time is a collection that is exactly as its title promises. It gets at both the weird, funny spectacle of performance, but also the pressure to perform, to show them a good time when you are decidedly not having a good time. It’s about how performance in the everyday can at times be artistic expression and at others voyeuristic and exploitative.
Thank you so much to Bloomsbury for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
PS: I highly recommend checking out the Stinging Fly Podcast’s episode on Nicole Flattery where they read and discuss the first and titular short story of this collection, “Show Them a Good Time.”
PPS: my favourite short stories were “Show Them a Good Time,” “Abortion, a Love Story,” and “Not the End Yet.”