Book review: Odds Against

Bruce HarrisOdds Against by Bruce Harris is not an ordinary collection of short stories. All have been shortlisted for prizes. All feature characters fighting ‘against the odds’. The theme is personal: all money raised by sales of the book is to be donated to the UK’s Huntington Disease Association. For Harris, whose partner suffers from the disease, the battle against the odds is personal.

The stories are divided into three sections so, rather than review each story, I have chosen one from each. The first third of stories feature women. In ‘Devil’s Evening’, Iana from Moldova is trapped beneath a bed. Asleep on the mattress is her captor, a bulky, boozy man who uses and abuses her. Desperate to flee, she remembers her mother and grandmother and hears their words of advice. ‘Then it was Mama again, telling her to use the opportunity, not squander it in meaningless gesture.’ A tale of modern-day slavery and what it means to escape.

In the section titled ‘Men’, ‘One Man’s Paradise’ tells the story of the captain of a patrol boat off the Italian island of Lampedusa, destination of refugees. As they approach a boat of refugees, a boat with dead and alive aboard, Captain Benedetti is challenged by his number two. Differing expectations: of the men aboard the patrol vessel – duty, lack of faith, misgivings – and eleven year old Dhaamin who hopes to arrive in a ‘good country’. Another tale about escape.

My final choice comes from the final third of the collection called ‘Both’. ‘Eyes Together, Eyes Apart’ tells the story of a wedding. Clare is the bride, her friend Sue remembers their college days. Rob is the bridegroom, watched by his former flatmate. We share the observations of friends on the joining together of two people, their motivations, their expectations, their characters. Then different perspectives from Clare’s Auntie Jo and Rob’s Uncle Michael. Hidden resentments, lusts, curiosity. An interesting take on the labyrinthine tensions and back-story within an ordinary family.

The settings of Harris’s tales range from current-day Italy and post-war Berlin, to a hospital and a retirement village. Characters include a drag-artist, an artist, a bridegroom, and a World War Two resistance fighter.

Read more about Bruce Harris’s campaign here.

If you like this, try these short stories:-
‘Diaspora City: the London New Writing Anthology’ ed. Nick McDowell
‘The Milk of Female Kindness: an Anthology of Honest Motherhood’ ed. Kasia James
‘The Story’ ed. Victoria Hislop

‘Odds Against’ by Bruce Harris [UK: Circaidy Gregory Press] Buy now

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