‘Mr Jolly’ is the first collection of short stories by Michael Stewart, and is published by Inpress Books. It is a strange conglomeration of separated lovers, lost children, and weird friends.
This was everything a short story collection should be – although the stories were clearly separate, they were linked through their eerie tone and the detached method of narration. Some of the stories felt like they could – or should – be linked, but Stewart leaves that entirely to the reader’s imagination. I enjoyed that a lot, as the stories felt like they flowed naturally with each other, without being too forced into set themes or philosophies. I could guess some of the plot twists, but I didn’t mind, because I was interested in seeing what he would do with them. Invariably, it was something interesting.
There was also a large difference in the length of the stories, which I personally appreciate. I find it easier to differentiate and remember individual stories when their structure isn’t exactly the same. It also just kept my interest – seeing as the compilation was fairly short, I read it in the course of an afternoon, and perfectly happily, too. I felt that the shorter works were, on the whole, better than the longer ones – unusually for me, because I often get frustrated with shorter pieces of fiction, because I just want more, dammit! However, I felt the ambiguity of the shorter stories fit better with the tone created by the book.
My one problem was with his handling of LGBT themes. Two of the longer pieces in the collection used queerness as a plot device – and a seemingly shocking one, at that. In a collection that seemed to explore the non-normative in a detached and abstract way, it was just weird to see it handled like that. It felt like Stewart was interested in thinking about queerness, but wasn’t sure of where to go with it. Which is a shame, because these stories were particularly well written, in my opinion.
On the whole, this was an entirely enjoyable short story collection. With a little bit less hesitancy about ‘real world’ non-normativity, it could have been brilliant.