Usually I take my time with books of short stories. I’ll maybe read one a day in the morning before work or read one aloud to my boyfriend in the evening to help him get to sleep (my voice is quiet & soothing: I could charm an angry lion to sleep) or pick up a book of stories on a restless afternoon to read only one and not go back to the book for a month. But the stories in “Your Father Sends His Love” made me greedy. I started with the first and I wanted another, then another and another like a bag of sweets. Stuart Evers has an uncanny ability for placing you right into a subtly dramatic situation so it feels so immediately real and entrancing. Many involve initially simple scenes such as a woman getting a tattoo, a father caring for his infant son during the weekend, a man consuming a bag of oranges. But you are quickly made aware there is more at stake here. Someone has a longstanding feud with his son, someone’s hope of a simple happy home has been shattered by larger circumstances, someone is channelling all their energy into an imaginary life. These diverse stories drew me in to challenge and entertain me so that I wanted to read them all immediately.
Family plays a crucial role in most of these stories. There is resentment which is dramatically played out as a self-destructive son extracts revenge on his egotistical father; a woman chides her husband’s occasional snack indulgences despite carrying on a hidden intense affair; a man develops a close friendship with his granddaughter where he gets her on his side against his son/her father. However, many of the stories also bravely feature the intensely tender and caring feelings between families which aren’t easily portrayed in fiction without giving me a toothache. A father defends his son from homophobic abuse; a mother seeks to honour the memory of her long-deceased sister; a man tries desperately to show how much he feels for his grieving best friend. These are meaningful and skilfully realized situations which made me care about these characters. It felt like their lives and relations expanded out far beyond the short space of a mere twenty odd pages.
One of the things that Evers does to make these stories feel so real is to capture the awkwardness of social interactions – sometimes with excruciating accuracy. In ‘Live From the Palladium’a boy tries to impress a girl he has a crush on with a joke he inherits from his mother only to bungle the thing up horribly. In ‘Charter Year, 1972’ while visiting a new family a man makes ominous suggestions that he’ll take prizes away from them unless they make public appearances. The story ‘Something Else to Say’ is structured in a way where mental lists of things to talk about are continuously made and nervously reshaped as a man meets his friend in a pub. Our social lives are filled with a clutter of trivialities which distract from larger and more crucial issues happening between us. These stories inventively portray how these interactions are played out while subtly hinting at the bigger emotions stirring beneath the surface.
An outstanding thing about the range of characters in these stories is how Evers represents diversity in way which is subtly woven into their very fabric. So there are characters across a range of races, nationalities and sexualities presented where identities are varied but they are first and foremost individuals. It’s a talent to do this in a way which doesn’t make difference into an issue, but includes it because it is simply the reality of the world. It’s something which should be happening more in fiction and Evers shows in these stories the right way it can be handled.
Many of the stories have a Raymond Carver feel to them because of their realism and delicately balanced interactions between characters in poignant locations. For instance, a time-worn affair is played out between couples in a disused nuclear war bunker turned tourist attraction in ‘This Is Not a Test.’ However, Evers also shows a range of styles with the title story ‘Your Father Sends His Love’ feeling at times like a Samuel Beckett play or his story ‘Swarm’ which takes us into a world of virtual reality where people “link” for a price. Reading the stories all together, I could see the way each story adjusts the tone of voice and rhythm to more suitably match the differing subject matter. Evers does this in a way which makes each story feel unique while also giving the collection overall a satisfying cohesion.
This is simply excellent story telling. Eat them up in one greedy feast or, if you have more restraint than I do, enjoy reading them at a civilized pace.