Author and editor Sue McCreery’s New Year’s resolution in 2015 was to write a story a day for a year. Loopholes, her delectable new collection of microfiction released on December 1 by Spineless Wonders, is the result.
‘Can’t you order a tender eye?’ a woman asks of her partner in ‘Monoculus’—and it was from this moment I knew I’d love Loopholes.
‘Monoculus’ is only the second story in the collection and it showed me early and incontrovertibly that Thirroul-based McCreery has an impeccable eye for the absurd. While that may sound like a dad joke, I’m serious. The quirkiness threaded so deftly through the collection lured me on.
McCreery is masterly at timing and writing the turning point—that crucial moment in a good short story where we learn what’s really going on and what’s at stake. In ‘Pet Hate’ it happens after the humans ‘see red’, when there’s a twist in the tale so unsettling it stops you in your tracks and makes you think.
In ‘Hold-up’ the shift comes when an attendant recognises an old school friend who’s desperately trying to be tougher than the boy he was in primary school. And in ‘Disturbance’ it’s the ending that’s pivotal and creepy. So creepy in fact I’m glad McCreery refrained from showing us what happens next.
A story like ‘Loose Ends’ easily could have milked the emotions surrounding unemployment—tumbling towards the mawkish. But McCreery keeps it cool and restrained. So cool in fact it’s almost clinical—socking it to the reader much harder as a result.
Due to the brevity of the form, objects in microfiction get freighted with meaning—and choosing what and where to place an object is an art in itself.
In ‘Safekeeping’ the genius is in the ‘wad of receipts bound in elastic’, a breath-freshener and a ‘flaky headache tablet in a blister square’ that a daughter finds in her mother’s handbag. It’s also in the ‘old singlet from her [mother’s] cleaning cupboard’ she uses to work wax into the bag’s hairline cracks.
‘Moored’ contains a conversation between partners about the song The Owl and the Pussycat. It’s kind of funny to begin with but ends with a bite. In this and similar stories McCreery seems to revel in puncturing the airbed that’s been supporting a relationship.
In ‘Flat Pact’ one of her piercing images describes precisely this type of let down: ‘For forty years my love cells had played ignorant, and now pop, pop, pop—punctured like those tiny balloons in plastic wrap. Nothing left but a flat pack of detachment.’ Yep, this was one of several moments while reading Loopholes that I found myself pausing and thinking, ‘Ouch.’
There are lighter tales in the collection—and I relished these too. Examples include ‘Onion Man’ who’s ‘a bit of a knob’; ‘Rear Window’ in which we’re taken behind the scenes of Hitchcock’s iconic film; and ‘First Love’, which shows a busker connecting wordlessly with a woman in a sky-blue scarf.
The surreal stories feature a man having a Mexican stand-off with a scorpion and a woman melting like wax.
Smart concepts include ‘esc’, in which a man ‘only speaks keyboard’, and ‘Mother’s Day’, a four-line story where a woman is vexed by the word FLOWER.
Eccentric characters include a Mr Darcy, who is not quite the kind of Darcy Elizabeth expects, and May the knitter, who’s fervently knitting to save the planet and herself.
I also adored ‘Feed the Man’, which is set in a butchery where ‘small, netted woodland creatures nestled in parsley’. Its opening sentences hooked me thoroughly: ‘Our butcher is a fine-boned specimen with a lightly tanned hide and silver hair. He knows his cuts.’
So, yes, there’s much to enjoy here—although you mustn’t mistake McCreery’s pacey plots, witty ripostes and easy expressiveness for flummery. Deeper meanings and double entendre are embedded for the reader to harvest.
Many of these tiny tales have big payoffs—and what I see when I say this is an arrow hitting its mark and leaving the boing-thwack lingering long after the page is turned.
Pithy one-liners are in abundance and often do a cartload of work despite their brevity. One of my favourites was ‘Give me Liberty with her hairy pits leading the people any day’ from ‘Mona Lisa’.
I also admired how ‘Ducks rose off the river silent as commas’ (‘Well, then’); that the kids are terrified of Father Christmas because ‘He smells of and you can see his undergarment’ (‘Grand Designs’); and how a character at an exhibition ‘nibbled on a doll-sized salmon quiche’ (‘Exhibition’).
If you like your microfiction funny, pointed and poignant, look no further. If you want to be delighted, disturbed and surprised in equal measure, order Loopholes for Christmas and enjoy its taut tales between swimming and snoozing on the beach.
With this clever collection McCreery has created some delicious morsels to suck on and savour. I’m thinking here of the hole from the middle of the doughnut—the heart of the loop.