Advent Calendar ’16 Dec 19th: BANG CRUNCH by Neil Smith

It’s back! The blog advent calendar. I enjoyed last year’s blog theme last year—re-reading twenty-four books of my youth—so much, so this year I’m applying the same approach to short stories, trawling through a myriad bunch of collections and anthologies I’ve read in the last few years.

December 19th: Bang Crunch by Neil Smith

imagesTell me about your first time: I discovered Neil Smith the same weekend I discovered Postsecret, and I discovered them both in the same place: a Waterstones in London, as a whiled away a spare afternoon on one of my thrice-yearly visits. I bought Postsecret and I Bang Crunch and ended up reading them both in the grounds of the palace. I got badly sunburnt, but they were worth it.

Sum it up: A girl ages at multiple times the normal rate, living her entire life in a few short years (bang), before contracting back once again to infancy (crunch).

Give me a quote: “You are Eepie Carpetrod. You’re eight years old and attend Albert Einstein Elementary, and you’re a perfectly normal girl, at least till that day in Mrs. Mendelwort’s class when you draw a multi-coloured crayon creature that has a yellow face with buggy eyes and a pug nose, a hat sprouting a garden-hose valve, an armless blue rectangle of a chest, thimbles for breasts, shapely red legs bent at the knees, and feet jammed into high heels. Very Joan Miro, Mrs. Mendelworth says. Her knowledge of surrealism is bang on but her pronunciation is off and so you correct her, zho-an mee-ro, you say, and you tell her that Miro preferred the Catalan pronunciation and then glance down at your reproduction of Miro’s Fleeing Young Girl and up at your teacher, whose mouth mirrors your creature’s mouth, crumpled surprise.”

Second reading: First I re-read the single story I was planning on for this blog and then, caught, I I re-read the entire. It’s a really solid collection of stories; the game at hand is plucking quiet, vulnerable moments from narratives slightly off-kilter to the usual seams of story mined for drama (the experience of those diagnosed with benign tumours, for example, or a story narrated by gloves), often fusing them through a lens of the visually fantastical. The story I remembered the most, and on second reading I believe remains the strongest of the collection, is the eponymous ‘Bang Crunch’, which tells the life story of a girl who ages at a preternatural rate. It is one long, breathless flurry, conjuring poignancy from the most prosaic of details, rich and odd, and ultimately both sad and moving. A short, expert sliver of storytelling that I loved very much.

Where can I read it: In Bang Crunch (Orion Books).

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