This post is part of a blog tour organised by Random Things Blog Tours. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.
‘Exposed. Vulnerable. Isolated.
‘A collection of short stories – a killer created from abuse, a teenager in search of answers from his older brother who committed suicide ten years earlier, a woman trapped in a persistent vegetative state, a ghost hunter afraid of ghosts, a bullied police officer, a man in a care home wanting a great adventure, and other fractured human beings looking for answers, trying to survive.
‘What would you do in their place?’
Many people who have been in my orbit over the past few months will know I’ve gone wild for short stories - both writing them myself, and reading them in order to be inspired, further my knowledge of the form, and, most importantly, for enjoyment.
Watching the Wheels, by Stephen Anthony Brotherton, is a collection I’m more than happy to add to my expanding short fiction shelf.
I was particularly struck by the variety of settings and characters I encountered in this book. With protagonists ranging from children to the elderly, and places encompassing ordinary flats and houses, care and nursing homes and hospitals, boats, and more besides, Brotherton’s stories are richly imaginative and command your attention throughout.
The author isn’t constrained by genre either: several stories include supernatural elements, some stories involve crime, and different time periods are covered too, from 1848 to the present day. Even so, he skilfully ties the disparate stories together with shared characteristics and themes, binding them into a cohesive whole.
As the blurb suggests, the stories’ main characters are united by their status as fractured outsiders due to, for example, their age, their experiences of loss and ostracism, and/or their proximity to death. There’s a curious woman in red pixie boots who pops up in a few stories, sometimes in the role of a kind of guardian angel, and a few names that are re-used, too.
The standout themes for me - which the woman/angel ties into - are imminent death, bereavement, and the supernatural. Characters struggling with the death of loved ones find themselves reconnecting with the deceased; characters nearing the end of their lives take stock and have intriguing experiences; older people demonstrate that they’re not dried-up old sticks.
The stories with supernatural elements are my particular favourites, especially Invisible Game and Locked In.
The very human desire for connection - in the form of friendship or romantic love - is another big theme that intertwines with the above. We see characters finding common ground and forming new bonds in a variety of environments: schools, the police, the army, travelling together, seeking relief from abuse, and even in the afterlife.
Other characters, desperately lacking this connection, reflect upon broken friendships and relationships with regret.
Something else that jumped out at me was the motif of characters not behaving how others expect them to in their context: the disorderly, rebellious elderly people in homes that I keep coming back to; people whose conduct is immoral according to the strictures of their day; a police constable who’s intimidated by the yobs who verbally abuse him on his way home; police cadets and army conscripts who are bullied, or refuse to fall in with institutional bullying. Very relateable!
Watching the Wheels is an eclectic, moving, and very human short story collection.