Alison MacLeod, novelist, short story writer and lecturer, recommends…

(CLASSIC: from Complete Stories, Faber)

Flannery O’Connor’s stories are kinetic things. They move with a life-force of their own, and their endings are as surprising, as shocking, as they are inevitable. I love, above all, her daring and her absolute courage on the page. O’Connor gives a story the freedom to be itself, in all its peculiarity. In doing so, it becomes absolutely itself, absolutely human.
‘Revelation’ is the story of Mrs. Ruby Turpin, a well fed, middle-aged smallholder who’s comfortable in her belief that she’s done right all her life by her husband, her farm, and her God. She routinely measures her worth by what she is not. All along the way, through many a thing that seemingly shouldn’t be said, let alone committed to paper, I feel myself willing O’Connor on. Hold your nerve, Flannery. Don’t play it safe. And she doesn’t. Her prose doesn’t flinch. In the story’s pivotal moment, an insult from a ‘lunatic’ girl in a doctor’s waiting room lays Mrs. Turpin low. She can’t fathom how she could be the target for such an injury; how she could be likened by a complete stranger to ‘a wart hog from Hell’. She can’t believe Jesus would allow her to stand so misjudged. Even with so deeply flawed a character, even with a character who cannot escape O’Connor’s eye for the grotesque, the story – common Mrs. Turpin’s common story – transcends the narrow, brutish everyday and opens outward to the visionary as, on the final page, Mrs Turpin looks out ’through the very heart of mystery’ and sees ‘a field of living fire’. The leap of storytelling is, for me, as credible as it is astonishing.

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(MODERN: from The Manchester Fiction Prize).

‘Days Necrotic’, winner of this year’s Manchester Fiction Prize, has to be my favourite story of 2011. It begins so strangely and yet so simply and it unfolds with the inescapable logic of a dream but is made vividly true-to-life by Coupland’s attention to (and love for) the mundane. The story is as elegant and as it is everyday; as dark as it is tender. A love story, it is beautifully restrained in its telling; it is also charged with the intensity and yearning, as Patrick says, of the ‘straining heart.’

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