Maurice Suckling, Photocopies of Heaven. Elastic Press, 2006. Pp. 216. ISBN 0954881281. £5.99.

Reviewed by Sarah Ann Watts

Photocopies of Heaven is a collection of stories which gives the sense of a carefully-crafted whole. The book is structured like an art exhibition, pieces of work selected by the author that hang together to achieve the best combined effect.

Many of these stories in their varied and different forms link together. If you were looking for the mirror image to a novel this is what you might get—characters who wander in and out of each others stories like friends dropping in and out of each other's houses. There is a sense of familiarity: these are people we know, people like us—their feelings and emotions and their lives are not unlike our own.

Themes that recur include a continuing search for identity and to find meaning in life, a quest for spirituality and to find something to believe in. The objects we own become new household gods.

There are stories within stories—as in ‘Nowhere And Other Destinations You Can Enjoy’ where a group of friends meets for a reunion—'the cars we passed at night all seemed lost but too on their own to ask for directions, like they'd just have to keep going till it got day, and only then could they work out where they were and how far they'd gone.' The characters are waiting for a break in the weather, the snow that didn't fall ten years ago—another turn and twist on an age old device. They tell each other stories that are and are not the stories of their lives against a background of casual mayhem—accidental damage to the cottage they are staying in that bears the marks of their visit a decade ago. 'When you wash and dry and put away in teams you must never throw le creuset pans unless people are looking.' This is one of several stories that explore the cyclical nature of life as déjà vu experience—we have been here before.

There is a comic strip, ‘The Amazing Adventures of No One In Particular’, emails, stories in text. The collection opens with an urban myth that invites us into a world of shared experience. This is followed by ‘What Happened Next? ’ A sad, funny and life enriching tale that tells the reader, this is going to be good.

In these tales consumer brands are important—in a secular and uncertain age they are the markers we use to define who we are and to show signals to the tribe—they mask our fear of being alone. They are also as indicators of time passing—that life is closing in and options shutting down. This is exploited neatly in tales such as ‘A New Kitchen Is A Way To A New Life’, ‘Things You Can Buy’ and ‘14 Everyday Brands’.

There is much to enjoy in this book—three stories in particular stood out for me—‘Identity Renting’, ‘Televisionism’—rejection of the miraculous in a world that is too cynical—and the wonderful ‘Infinite Things To Do With Microwaves’ which should definitely come with a don't-try-this-at-home warning. I didn't meet a tale I didn't like.

I think the author's achievement is the interconnected quality of the stories that reflect the surreal quality of the world we live in and also captures the uncertainty post 9/11. This is encapsulated in the beautifully written ‘September 12th’—'Let us build heaven here.'

The style is direct and engaging and the whole quality of the book is inventive—a celebration of the short story form that showcases the author's confidence and skill; storytelling for the twenty-first century with a human face.

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