Reviewed by: Arthur Graham
Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words
Kindle US: YES UK: YES Nook: YES Smashwords: YES Paper: NO
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store
Mark Staniforth is a British writer and sports journalist from North Yorkshire, England. His work has been published in various literary zines and nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize. For more on Mr. Staniforth, see his blog.
Spanning 18 shorts set in and around a fictitious village of the same name, Fryupdale represents a mixed bag of gritty realism, social satire, and dark humor. Characters, locales, and motifs recur frequently throughout, providing a conceptual framework uniting its disparate parts.
At turns both tragic and comic (though usually somewhere between), Fryupdale focuses on an insular English village and the provincial lives of its villagers. Most of their conflicts seem to derive from a desire to escape, if not to the world outside, then into those afforded through sex, alcohol, and other vices. Often are we left with the impression that the grass isn’t any greener elsewhere – figuratively as well as literally, given the pastoral setting.
Frequent allusions to real or imagined incest and bestiality probably say less about the author’s fixations than certain realities encountered wherever most folks are some degree of kin and the livestock outnumber people. That the book is subtitled “Short Stories from Beyond the Village Limits” is ironically fitting, for while virtually none of the action takes place outside of Fryupdale, much of what happens is either pushing the envelope of good taste or treading close to implausibility. What’s so remarkable about Fryupdale is that no matter how crude or far-fetched it becomes, the author is able to portray the characters and their experiences in a superbly realistic light, making even the most potentially transgressive scenes a joy to read.
Taken separately, most of the tales work quite well on their own. Staniforth is adept at both showing and telling – skills equally necessary for authors working in shorter formats, where even the slightest suggestion is just as important as that which is explicitly stated. Where Fryupdale really shines, however, is the manner in which all 18 of its pieces come together. Traditional short stories, pieces or flash, newspaper clippings, and even an Internet chat all serve to reinforce each other with the appropriate narrative and thematic context, making the book much more than merely the sum of its parts.
Fryupdale is available for free download via Smashwords.
As Mr. Staniforth is British (and his characters are about as unadulteratedly British as they come), readers from this side of the pond may benefit from a primer on UK culture/slang. Familiarity with the BBC’s League of Gentlemen or Little Britain television series will probably suffice.
Contains language/situations that may be considered offensive to more prudish readers.
A handful of minor proofing errors, though nothing particularly heinous.
Rating: **** Four stars