I haven’t read as many short story collections this year as I normally do, so I was excited to dive into this newly published book by Mary South. It didn’t take long before I realised that I had discovered a truly thrilling new voice in short fiction. The stories in this collection are unique, and it is hard to compare South with other writers; her style is highly original. However, the feeling of having stumbled across an author whose confidence and skill with the short story form is quite breath-taking reminded me of the first time I read work by Carmen Maria Machado, Leyna Krow, and Amie Barrodale.
South’s stories fall broadly under the umbrella of ‘speculative fiction’, positing a future not too far from our own, examining the ways in which scientific and technological advances might bring to the fore some of our darker impulses. In this way it reminded me a lot of the brilliant TV series Black Mirror: it seems to share the same awareness that it is not the technology itself that causes the damage, but our very natures. And like Black Mirror, each story has its own distinctive style, experimenting with form and language in a way that is incredibly exciting for the reader.
For me, a large part of the thrill of this collection was in the shocking revelations of the story worlds and the plots, so I don’t want to delve too deeply into the individual stories and ruin that aspect for anyone who might be tempted to read the book (which I strongly urge you to do). So I will just highlight some of the standout stories without giving too much away. Keith Prime, the opening story, is a surprisingly tender tale, with echoes of Kazuo Ishiguro. My favourite of the whole collection is Frequently Asked Questions About Your Craniotomy, which folds a narrative within its pamphlet-like structure in a formally inventive way that left me full of admiration. The title story is perhaps the most challenging read, a fierce and angry story that feels deeply confronting in a way that is both brave and necessary. It is not just thought-provoking but provocative, and, I felt, truly courageous. The final story in the collection, Not Setsuko, chilled my blood and held my attention captive almost against my will. It is absolutely shocking, but written with such nuance and grace that the full horror of it creeps up deliciously slowly.
These stories are uncomfortable, close to our present, revealing in ways we might prefer not to think about. But they are also incredibly intelligent, often funny, and full of a real joy in the gymnastic power of language. Above all, there is emotion here, and even in the darkest stories, a glimmer of warmth and hope. South has produced a body of stories that both demand and deserve our attention, for they hold up a mirror to our present and offer a glimpse of our possible future.
You Will Never Be Forgotten by Mary South is out now in the US, published by FSG Originals. It will be published by Picador in the UK in August.