Taking Doreen out of the Sky

doreenTaking Doreen out of the Sky

Alan Beard

Picador 1999

I can’t imagine this remaining out of print. I am lucky enough to have procured a secondhand copy on amazon. Count yourself lucky if you get to own a copy too.

All the stories in this collection focus on lives the shape of roads and council estates in the English Midlands. One story, Cheer Up Lucky Lips Forever, involves the narrator’s train journey interrupted: he leans from a window to stare through a fog into his memories made physically real by coincidence, the same house that centres his train of thoughts. The same device of Larkin in  I remember, I  remember and the resonance of that poem’s last line, its realisation that ‘Nothing, like something, happens anywhere.’

The memories and  desires of nowhere people (nowhere because everywhere) are embodied in superbly crafted short ‘short stories’, sparing, stripped to the bone language – most difficult to achieve the rhythms, cadences and imagery of theme and mood using the simplest vocabulary. The composer Schoenberg once remarked that there are ‘still many good tunes to be written in C major’: Beard has gone further than good tunes to create something like street opera, bare skeletal structures to hold great passions. It’s another mark of the craftsmanship that the stories are deftly controlled by accidentals and transpositions from major to minor.

Only a purblind reader could fail to see that Beard’s characters are people first, and that from the bare sketching of their essential outlines how immediate is the recognition of the basic foibles, contradictions, passions and moralities of all classes of people. Outwardly ‘Shameless’ territtory or  of some award-winning television documentary looking down on the lives of the ghettoised and exotically awful,  the stories in this collection are generous in spirit and guide the view upwards. A generous writer, of course, includes humour and playfulness, and these are evident throughout.

There is one motif that weaves through the stories, a theme almost. It is about the secret places behind the weary urban greyness. Often, some woods or hills or trees, some hint of a border beyond towards which in memory or presence confused desire gropes; then there are somewheres/nowheres like where “they stashed the dustbins, a corner of multi-drainpipes and clogged drain and  nicked into the building like a wound.” (in Dad, Mum, Paula and Tom).  These wonderful stories are doubly rewarding in the pleasure they give and the startle into our own time and memories.

You can read the first story in the collection, Saturday in the ‘Sac, on Alan Beard’s website here Then go and buy the book.

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