Broken Rules and Other Stories

Barry Lee Thompson

Broken Rules and Other Stories
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Broken Rules and Other Stories

Barry Lee Thompson

These awards-listed, interlinked stories vividly capture the small, rarely spoken moments of our lives that reverberate with meaning, with darkness and with light.

An adolescent son and his parents on their annual holiday at a Bournemouth guesthouse become intrigued with the glamour and otherness of an American family from Boston. An adult son and his mother navigate an unnerving relationship based on dependence and ritual. A woman transgresses her husband’s rules and his distaste for parties. A sex-worker empathises with the life of an elderly client. From derelict industrial districts, to a lonely highway diner, to the faded charm of a British seaside resort, these are stories of growing up marginalised and living in working-class England and Australia. Thompson’s writing is so clear and deep and lucid you can see every crumb on the tablecloth, every drop of water on a person’s hair.

Broken Rules and Other Stories' nuanced play of character, psychology and language, and its focus on the mysteries we are all involved in when we are out of our depth, exposed to our emotions, our wonders and our longings, marks the emergence of a remarkable new talent.

Review

The short-story collection from a single author is something I have grown to appreciate, especially in the last ten years or so. Australian writers have definitely made their mark in this area, ranging from those works with a strong sense of concept (Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals), those linked by a sense of mood (This Taste for Silence by Amanda O’Callaghan) and those that are simply an impressive, varied collection (Fabulous Lives by Bindy Pritchard). Broken Rules and Other Stories by Barry Lee Thompson (who was born in Liverpool but now lives in Melbourne, so we’re claiming him!) touches on all these approaches but is its own unique collection and brought unexpected tears to my eyes in the closing pages.

Broken Rules and Other Stories is described as seventeen interlinked stories. I found coming to each story individually and not worrying too much about how it should ‘fit’ resulted in me slowly seeing the possible links between them. By the time I read the final and longest story, ‘Angel’, I had developed my own perspective on how these stories worked together, which bought a sense of closure for me as a reader. The stories cover two main themes. The first focuses on stories from gay male perspectives: fantasies as a young boy, first approaches, random encounters with strangers, sex work, and the continuing search for true intimacy. Scattered between these stories is a group of tales that centre on family dynamics, with a particular focus on the relationship between mother and son.

Regardless of connections the individual reader may make between the stories, there is not one weak link. All pieces capture your attention quickly and none outstay their welcome. It is Thompson’s ability to create a vivid sense of place and tone that makes this an exciting (although sometimes unsettling) reading experience. At this point I am still wondering if I can forgive the author for the terrifying pictures in my head after reading the opening story!


Amanda Rayner is the returns officer at Readings Carlton.

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