Irregular Verbs and Other Short Stories

Irregular Verbs and Other Stories - Matthew Johnson

When I saw this one in the Read Now section of NetGalley I instantly remembered Helen Marshall’s “Hair Side, Flesh Side”, a book of short stories much like this one that I picked up and found myself rather disappointed with. It also made me even more curious to see where this book would lead, especially after seeing that she wrote the introduction to this one.

“Irregular Verbs and Other Short Stories” is a book that was good up to about the half-way point, I found, and then I slowly began to lose interest in what I was reading and failing to engage with the story or getting really into it. One issue worth noting in the book is that some of the concepts were left feeling unfinished and hanging, and in other stories it was such a gripping plot and cast of characters that it was quite the opposite.

The title story, “Irregular Verbs”, addressed the topic subject of the book very heads-on, but after that the stories took a rather different approach to the ‘prompt’, some in a way that I thought were very original and intriguing, and others in a way that left me wondering how exactly they pertained to the theme at all. The stories all, however, had a unifying element of fantasy and a somewhat sci-fi twist to them, all – from my understanding – occurring in the future or in an alternative universe. It’s especially hard to judge them considering that the approaches were, as I said, so different, and while some like “Another Country” and “Au Coeur Des Ombres” both connected back to the same universe and ideas, others like “The Dragon’s Lesson” felt complete and with their purpose and idea clearly conveyed. Stories like “Lagos” and “The Face of the Waters” felt confusing and incomplete, but my favourite one in terms of both execution and the idea of the story itself would be “Closing Time”. The concept was original and I loved the way the conflict between the son and his father’s ghost was resolved, as well as the setting which was the backdrop to all the action. A few stories I skimmed through, being unable to get into them after a few pages and deciding the story wasn’t for me.

It’s definitely a better book than “Hair Side, Flesh Side”, also published by Chizine, but I still wasn’t completely won over, and debated over the stories and tried rearranging them as if puzzle pieces. I think many of the stories could’ve been more “completed” and the concepts a bit more polished, but I’m sure this book will find its audience that will love its somewhat unpolished, raw beauty in the form which it already is in.