I’m onto the third volume in the Penguin 70s boxset and back into fiction territory. This is a pair of short stories by Nick Hornby, a writer I’m ashamed to say I’ve not read before (the films were so good that I just didn’t feel the need. Apologies – I now realise my error); the first, from which this volume takes its name, was published in McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales in 2002 and the second, Not a Star, was written for this Pocket Penguin.
In the first story a teenage narrator, one who eschews ‘all that Holden Caulfield kind of crap’ in the construction of his narrative, establishes early on that he has something significant to tell us. This is linked to a video recorder he’s picked up for fifty bucks, and what unfolds is the stuff of dystopian nightmares, told from a convincingly teenage perspective. Without giving the plot away, the sticking point for me is the fact that it hinges on a technology which has now been superseded by gadgets even more likely to be able to do what this old VCR can. Such is the risk of all speculative fiction, I guess.
The second story is different in as much as it is based on a more plausible (if no more welcome) premise but, like Otherwise Pandemonium, the precision used in the creation of the narrative voice means that we believe utterly in our narrator. One ordinary morning, a mother is presented with evidence that her son is the star of a porn film. Hornby is such a top writer that this story manages to be highly amusing (her riposte to the nosy neighbour is just brilliant), uncomfortable, and very moving in just 31 pages.
On the back of this volume, Penguin explain the thinking behind Hornby’s inclusion in the set: ‘his work … gives a literary voice to the needs, concerns and preoccupations of everyday life.’ This is certainly true of the second story – I felt this was a more complex and clever tale than the first.