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Success Stories

by Martin Foreman

fffront.jpg

ISBN 0 952964 7 4
Published by Paradise Press, 2002
151pp, paperback
Retail price 6.99

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher

Of all the self-published and packaged books I've reviewed on these pages, I'd have to single this one out as the most professional-looking - in other words, the one least likely to give itself away to the casual reader as self-financed. Several factors contribute towards this good impression: the slick cover art, the binding, the unfussy typeface and the high standard of proof-reading. When I first looked it over, it came as a shock to discover that it had been published in the UK; I had taken it for an American production.

Nevertheless, I became a little anxious when I opened the volume at random and read Homophobia, Darling. It wasn't so much the subject matter that worried me as the possibility that these short stories might all have been written for the purpose of deriding heterosexual values, or worse still, as a satire on gay pride. Relieved to find that I'd been quite wrong on that score, I explored the remainder of the stories with great interest.

The content, to a certain extent, reinforces the cosmopolitan image presented by the cover illustration. These stories are set in a number of locations throughout the UK and indeed the world. They all have one thing in common, though - they are all written in the first person, and I admit I found this disconcerting. In the average collection of stories, you will tend to find both first-person and third-person narratives, the latter being in the majority despite modern trends. My personal view is that variety is an important element in making such a collection enjoyable. I'm sure Martin Foreman would argue that, in changing his narrator's gender, sexual orientation and ethnic background from story to story, he is providing variety. The problem, I think, is that to do so effectively from a narrator's point of view requires a chameleon-like nature that does not come naturally to many people.

At first sight effortlessly elegant, Mr Foreman's style has evidently had a lot of attention lavished on it, not to mention careful study of the human race in its multiplicity of forms. I wouldn't like to suggest that he doesn't paint a convincing picture of an uneducated young black man or an outrageously camp insurance salesman, of how their respective minds work. He may, for all I know, be both those things in reality, but he cannot possibly be familiar with all the walks of life he attempts to depict in this book. It is hard work being a working-class Glaswegian boy one minute and a promiscuous German girl the next. No one can keep that up forever, however well they imitate an accent in print, without descending occasionally into stereotype. Nor is there time available, as there might be in a novel, to develop these narrators. Writers expend a lot of energy trying to get inside the minds of their characters - but not usually inside all of them at the same time. Martin Foreman puts in more effort than most, and at times he tries too hard.

What should hold this collection together, and does to some extent, is the basic theme (in this case love, or sex, in its various guises) and their effectiveness as short stories. There are several which have the kind of well-turned conclusion that signals a skilled story-writer: Basement, for one. And I particularly liked Cold Silence, corny as it was. The best way to tackle this book is probably not to attempt to read from beginning to end. Pick it up every now and again and read a complete story at each sitting. This is easy because they are genuinely short, not the novellas so often presented in the guise of short stories, yet not so brief that they can be accused of lacking a plot. Despite my reservations, I was impressed with the work that had gone into every one, and found several of them genuinely moving.

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