Bob Summer’s collection of tales in A Genie Called Vodka & Other Short Stories is not for the faint-hearted, with each story depicting its teenage character’s struggle in a dark situation: dealing with a mother’s alcoholism, living on the streets, suffering from mental illness, losing a child to social services or being the victim of sexual abuse.
“The house has a silence to it like in the eye of an argument. All the clues tell me, not only has Dad been at it again, but Mum knows it.”
Each character tries to deal with their circumstances in their own way: trying to rise above them, trying to ignore them, trying to accept them, trying to avenge them. The collection goes to some horrible places and introduces us to some evil people, and it’s a brave writer who takes us there.
Summer’s bravery extends to her endings, which she mixes up with various techniques. Sometimes I feel like our hero has won, other times like they think they’ve won but really haven’t. A couple of times I wasn’t entirely sure how the story had been left, which was equally frustrating and thought provoking.
While the ambition of the writer cannot be faulted, sometimes it feels like she’s stretched herself too far and the writing in some stories jumps about in a jarring way that breaks the flow of the writing.
The characters too, despite their awful situations, seem to takes things in their stride a little too well. Whether they’re oblivious to their surroundings and situations or they’re just stronger than most people I meet, I found that they mostly remained a bit too calm, a bit too sure of themselves, a bit too okay with everything that was going on.
A Genie Called Vodka & Other Short Stories shows great promise and with a little tweaking could easily be pushed up to four stars.