I have heard recently through the literary grapevine about some older, male authors who confess to only reading works by dead writers. What an arrogant and self-defeating attitude that is. Imagine all the glorious fictional worlds they’re missing out on, the energy and innovation of all that new writing that they’ll never experience.
Here at The Big Issue we champion as many new writers as possible, and this week we have another couple of whip-smart and razor-sharp novels by debut writers.
First up is Six Stories by the young English writer Matt Wesolowski. The book has a terrific and highly original structural hook, the story arranged as six separate interviews with six characters, each of whom was involved somehow in the death of a teenager 20 years previously.
Six Stories mirrors the format of recent true crime podcasts such as Serial perf-ectly, drip-feeding information and revelations to the reader, twisting our perceptions and expectations as it digs deeper into the case.
There is more than a whiff of modern horror here, and The Blair Witch Project feels like a touchstone
The events around the death of Tom Jeffries are eked out with skill and precision. A group of teenagers called the Rangers were at an outward-bound centre in the north of England called Scarclaw Fell when Tom went missing. A year later his body was found but the mystery of his death was never solved.
Wesolowski evokes the ominous landscape and eerie atmosphere of the area with sharp, direct prose, and through his podcaster, Scott King, he slowly unpicks the knots that tied the tight-knit group of Tom’s teenage friends together.
There is more than a whiff of modern horror here, and The Blair Witch Project feels like a touchstone, but the meat of the story is the typically fractious and fraught relationships between the teenagers struggling to find their place in the world and their role within society. Impeccably crafted and gripping from start to finish.
Equally compelling is the brutal and uncompromising One of the Boys by Daniel Magariel. It’s a short and intense story told from the point of view of an unnamed 12-year-old boy who, along with his father and older brother, flee their lives in Kansas for the deserts of New Mexico.
The boy’s parents have had a messy divorce, and the brothers, under psychological pressure from their father, have been complicit in lying about their mother’s behaviour, so that their father now has sole custody. But it quickly becomes apparent that the father is unstable and abusive, both physically and mentally, and the book becomes a nerve-shredding examination of a toxic father-son relationship.
To begin with our narrator is completely on the side of his dad, despite his apparent problems with drugs and anger, but Magariel brilliantly depicts his slow awakening to realise the horrors of his situation.
The internal struggle in the narrator is subtly evoked, as he tries to overcome his own conditioning and see things for how they really are.
The prose throughout One of the Boys is spare and unflinching, the action delivered in deadpan style, making the grotesqueness of the actual events all the more impactful.
The tension on the page is palpable from the very start, and the trajectory of the family’s story is utterly compelling, while a smart epilogue throws new light on the journey into darkness that all three main characters have made. Cracking stuff.
Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski, out now on Orenda £8.99
One of the Boys by Daniel Magariel, out now on Granta, £12.99