HUMAN MAPS by Andrew Hook. Book review

HUMAN MAPS by Andrew Hook, Eibonvale Press p/b £10.00 (UK) 241 pages ISBN: 978-1-908125-46-0,

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

There are a lot of readers whose idea of a good short story in one that narrates an event or combination of events and has a beginning, a middle and an end. That is true about many stories of quality. These are mostly a shorter form of a novel. This approach has merit. The short form though, can be much more. It allows the writer to experiment with forms and styles, to turn the traditional form on its side and twist it. This is what Andrew Hook has done in this collection of stories.

It is difficult to categorise the twenty-one stories in this volume as they cover a wide range of themes and styles. All, though, have one thing in common – they have an emotional connection. The focal characters have flaws which are explored to great effect, no more so than in ‘The Perfection of Symmetry’. Vermillion is a model whose body has perfect symmetry. It is this that makes her desirable and highly paid. Her fear is that one day that perfection will be marred. In total contrast, a number of stories put older people at the centre. The inhabitants of the nursing home in ‘Old Factory Memories’ have embraced their flaws. They suffer from the ailments of the aging but still have an element of rebelliousness. They sneak out at night into the grounds of the demolished factory where they reconstruct it from memories.

The title story, ‘Human Maps’, Hook cleverly uses the acronyms that youngsters used to sign off their love letters with (in the days when we wrote real letters) to chart the narrator’s surreal  journey not just around the world back to the woman he loves but their relationship as well. ‘Beyond the Island of the Dolls’ is a poignant story about coping with grief and self-blame. Stewart’s journey is with memory and the doll that belonged to his dead daughter. Hearing of the Island of Dolls, he hopes placing it there in the company of others will bring him catharsis.

There are young people here, anxious about taking the steps into what they consider to be adulthood. In ‘Monster Girl’, Yoshi, a student, works at a host club – the equivalent of a lap dancing club where the clients are women. His aim is to earn enough money to buy a love doll, not for sex but to cuddle. Because of his job, he is scared of women. The linguist narrator in ‘Vulvert’ is introduced to adult pleasures by a girl he meets in a music shop, though he has seen her before. As in many of these stories, he and the reader, would be wise not to take a situation at face value. In many cases, such as ‘Blood For Your Mother’ there is horror lurking only exposed as the story unfolds towards its conclusion. In this case the shock is for Miriam whose father appears to be going senile.

These stories are literary, rather than the standard genre offerings. Hook has an imagination that can turn the ordinary into the surreal. For a reader looking for something different in the way of a short story, this is an ideal volume to dip into.