Scottish writer Jackie Kay was a hit at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival in 2013, and deservedly so. A gifted poet and playwright, she is a natural performer as well: at ease on the stage and in possession of A NICE BIG VOICE. Throw in a Scottish accent and some humour, and what’s not to like?
Kay has produced several books of fiction, and all of these have benefited from her skills in the other genres. Her writing is lyrical; her characters always sound authentic and true, and she is a mistress of the soliloquy.
In Reality, Reality, her latest volume, most of the 15 stories are told by their main characters, in the first person. There’s a directness about this approach; readers connect right away with the stranger on the page, and are drawn into that person’s world — her reality — even though we may never learn her name. (Her name? Yes, most of Kay’s characters are women, though otherwise they are diverse: old or young, hetero or lesbian, of various ethnicities.)
Great opening lines add to the directness: every one has impact. So the unnamed narrator of ‘Bread Bin’ confides, “It’s taken me until the age of forty-nine to have really wonderful sex.” And another story, from which Kay read at the writers festival, begins, “These are not my clothes, I tell her. These are not my clothes, but she puts them on me anyway...
The first story, about a woman who lives like a reality show contestant, gives the book its title — and ‘Reality, Reality’ is apt for this whole collection. In looking at each character’s ‘reality’, we often see the very human tendency to have a limited view, to lack self-awareness... even, sometimes, to be self-deceptive or delusional. Yet rather than judgement Kay brings pathos, humour and empathy to her portrayals. We can identify with her women, even when they’re far from wise.
This author’s chosen genre of the short story and the immediacy of her style are, I think, ideal for these times, when reading is rationed and gratification must be instant. The idea of a small serving (just one piece of shortbread) hooks us in, twenty-first centurians that we are, and before we know it, we’ve devoured a plateful. Jackie Kay delivers much more than brevity, however. Like other really good short-story collections, Reality, Reality is more than the sum of its parts.
Title: Reality, Reality (ebook, book or CD)
Author: Jackie Kay
Published: Picador, UK, 2013