That this book is donating funds to the Teenage Cancer Trust is both commendable and its strongest feature. With each copy of Punk Fiction – An Anthology of Short Stories Inspired by Punk sold, one pound is donated to said trust – which, if anything, ought to appeal to a reviewers’ kindly nature. Or, to quote XTC’s Andy Partridge – he who stumbled upon punk via the back door clutching Steely Dan credentials – one of a reviewer’s many ‘optimisms flames.’ But in the long tradition of DIY song-writing, where a guitar, three chords and the truth, are all that is supposedly required, a similar dogma just isn’t applicable when it comes to literature.
For a start, you have to actually have something to say.
And lest it be said that when compared to the amplified attitude of yore, these short stories are to be judged for what they are – in all their translucent nakedness - not for what they’re trying to emulate.
Spuriously inspired by punk they may be, but many of these short stories are of the sort you hear everyday at Sainsbury’s - although not as compelling. They’re far too linear for their own good. It’s as if they’ve been written to order.
And life isn’t written to order.
In truth, these stories just aren’t that good. There’s no colour. No imagination.
No sparkle. With the possible exception(s) of Janine Bellman’s ‘Safety Pin Stuck In My Heart,’ in which the protagonist bequeaths us with a snippet of social home truth: ‘’[…] what have the young ever cared about other than shagging and drifting and forgetting? […]. Some nights when I look through the window of the bus, down onto the passing streets below, I see a woman with a broken mouth and redundant eyes looking back at me and then I realise.,’’ and John Given’s ‘Cattle and Cane,’ who writes in memoriam of a friend: ‘’With a goofy grin and a dog-brush haircut and an infectious cackle.,’’ most of these short stories read as if they’ve been shoe-horned into their prospective titles.
As a big fan of Billy Bragg and Johnny Marr (and having reviewed several of John Robb’s writings), I found Punk Fiction something of a disappointment. Simply because it could, and ought, to have been so much better.
For more details on the charity, please go to: www.teenagecancertrust.org
Punk Fiction – An Anthology of Short Stories Inspired by Punk
Edited by Janine Bullman
Foreword by Johnny Marr
Portico/Anova Books - £9.99