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The Crack Magazine

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Scar City by Joel Lane

I started to watch a documentary about the artist and writer Brian Catling the other day, but I was so freaked out by what I was seeing I had to turn it off. But what it had immediately reminded me of was the short stories in Scar City by Joel Lane, a writer who set some of his best (and strangest) stories in the suburbs of Birmingham in places like Digbeth, Oldbury, and Acocks Green. Although I’m more of a north-eastern Brummie (Ward End, Saltley, Erdington etc), all these suburban “transition zones” that ring the industrial brownfield sites aka ‘investment opportunities’ that then ring the shiny rebuilt city itself, have much in common. In-between places with people living in-between lives which the stories in Scar City intensify, warp and twist well out of synch. The go-to character, a man of ambiguous sexuality, who tries to negotiate the complicated art of living when ‘normality’ isn’t quite what it seems. There are hauntings, Eraserhead-like births and bad dreams that, if you’re lucky, lead to personal catharsis. Trips outside Birmingham aren’t any less fraught either as train journeys lead to beatings, breakdowns and in one story a psychosexual drama performed by a couple in a caravan outside Milton Keynes. “Anything could be deregulated now. There was even a market for these offcuts of the soul.” Strange and intense, these stories are never less than compelling with Joel Lane’s eye for a perfect line undiminished throughout, “Night had fallen when I reached Oldbury. The best time for coming home: when the new developments fade into the background and the past becomes real again”. 

Published by by Influx Press - £9.99

Steven Long

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