The Stairs are a Snowcapped Mountain by Judy Darley, published by Reflex Press
This new collection of short fiction, the third from Judy Darley, is ambitious. Stories explore the pandemic and possible consequences on our mental and material wellbeing, our relationship with the natural world and the accelerating impact of climate change, alongside both the struggles and joys that arise between siblings, parent/child and lovers. They range from a few thousand words (The Daughters) to just one line (Elegy), traveling across genre and form. Sci-fi, cli-fi, dystopias, utopias, realism, magic realism, surrealism, absurdism, all mixed up to offer a breathtaking range of astute social commentary and emotional complexity. Darley is a master of imagery and uses water, particularly the sea, and sea creatures, as a running metaphor in many of the stories. She also explores the landscape, how it shifts and changes, how important it is to literally ground us when all we want to do is scream (Leaf after Leaf). Her sensual, tactile description in Alone doesn’t have to mean lonely is beautiful. I loved the tenderness of Reaching Branches, which offers a glimpse of a world apprehended through olfactory senses, and the wonderful disorientation of Simmer and Steep, where a door graffitied on the side of a building pops open to allow a new way of seeing in the protagonist’s mind. This collection explores loss, isolation (loneliness is a prevalent theme), contagion, fear and fall out. They are powerful and timely, balanced by humour and beauty. I particularly enjoyed the sharp wit of stories such as Self Defence Against Yesterday, where our heroines need rescuing by Hera, wife of Zeus, whose ‘job’ it is to make the girls ‘self sufficient’, and Stealing from Windowsills, a retelling of the Goldilocks myth. Anything can (and does) happen in these short fictions: inanimate objects are personified, women birth eggs, snow on a distant planet contain memories that can be tasted by the young. Judy Darley asks what it is to be alive today, in this world, right now, in a way that constantly surprises, informs and excites. Highly recommend.