Hell of a Thing, Michael Botur
The thing with Michael Botur's short story collection HELL OF A THING is that there is going to be something in here for all readers who like a bit of dark, unrelenting, beat you round the head and shoulders styled fiction.
There's sixteen stories in this collection, described in the blurb:
In Hell of a Thing, a cowardly father seeks a more exciting son; two lovers on a posh date dine on self-delusion; and an author turns his back on his past—until the past demands violent closure. We meet artistic terrorists, renegade daughters, an Uber driver from Waziristan, and a crew of casino kids up past their bedtime—everything with a distinctive Kiwi flavor that lends a counter-clockwise swirl to otherwise familiar settings.
Counter-clockwise, self-delusional, violent, all added up to a very unusual, sometimes decidedly discomforting collection, although I will confess to a particular favourite being artistic terrorists:
Looking through the throng at her BFF, Lotus can tell Andi is pissed. Andi – half a head taller than most of the plebs here – is moving like a Terminator, nudging people aside with her big arms. Andi wants the night over. Andi wants the revolution to kick off.
Maybe she'll end up heading to the revolution in an Uber driven by the guy from The Flemish Bond:
We finally screech into a space and point north and I relax a fraction and get a chance to study my driver: Hawaiian shirt, gelled black hair, messy black goatee, Jesus on the dash, rasta air freshener hanging from the rearview in the shape of a weed leaf. He’s my age, more or less. His biceps are interesting. Bit of muscle on him.
Reeking of authenticity, tough as nails, littered with all the obscenities you're going to hear where the hard, would-be-hard, and hangers on congregate, there's something familiar, and shocking about the way that Botur puts these stories together. Set firmly in New Zealand, these would also translate to just about anywhere that there's societal tension - the have's and have not's, indigenous and non-indigenous, righteous and terminally bored, aspirationals and couldn't give a ... types. The writing style is a combination of observational and reportage, with the only slack given to the reader the occasional touches of humour that come like a lightening bolt from some very dark storm clouds.
Disconcertingly compulsive reading, I will confess to a slow troll through this collection and a return to a few to reconsider based on something further down in the collection. Botur says this about his short story collections:
Michael Botur is the author of four acclaimed short story collections and one collection which hardly anybody read. He has published creative writing in most of New Zealand’s literary journals and has won various prizes for short stories and poems; likewise, he has published journalism in most major newspapers and magazines in that country. He lives in Whangarei with his two kids.
A distinctive voice, HELL OF A THING could be just the something very different readers are looking for, with the proviso that we're talking dark and unrelenting, from a fascinating, and very exciting writer.
With his sixth collection of stories, this leading young New Zealand author and journalist finds purchase for the first time with an American publisher. In Hell of a Thing, a cowardly father seeks a more exciting son; two lovers on a posh date dine on self-delusion; and an author turns his back on his past—until the past demands violent closure. We meet artistic terrorists, renegade daughters, an Uber driver from Waziristan, and a crew of casino kids up past their bedtime—everything with a distinctive Kiwi flavor that lends a counter-clockwise swirl to otherwise familiar settings.