I first came across Kirsty Logan at a special event, marking the 40th anniversary of Gay’s The Word, at the British Library.
She read from ‘Underskirts’, a short story from her collection The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales and I was immediately struck by the sensuality of the evocative language, the vivid images, and thought-provoking premise so much so that I bought her collection, curious to read and learn more of this story and the many others.
‘Underskirts’, I discovered, is about the indiscretions of an aristocratic Lady with a not-so-private passion for her maids.
“They love love as I do. They see the straight line of my jaw along the length of their thighs and they see how it fits, the geometry of bodies…I know how to fill the gaps in a girl.”
The best short stories grip the reader with a tension inherent within them and ‘Underskirts’ exemplifies this as every word is heady with sexuality and power, fizzing with the peril of transgression. The reader senses that it is only a matter of time before the Lady’s behaviour is challenged by one of the many onlookers we hear from.
It is perversely fitting that it is her daughter and the thought of her mother’s ‘‘sins’’ that is the Lady’s undoing. The daughter ‘‘tells’’ her father, blind to his wife’s actions by his arrogance, of her mother’s ‘‘wickedness’’. The Lady’s banishment to isolated confinement for the rest of her days does not shake the Lady’s deep belief that her passions are not needing of repentance but are rather the very essence of ‘‘grace” and “glory’’.
A striking feature of this collection is the scope of storytelling, sweeping from artificial hearts as the answer to broken ones, to coin operated rent boys and to tiger palaces. Themes blend and contrast together. The notions of “grace” and “glory” explored in ‘Underskirts’ for example are in stark contrast with the unsettling brutal tale of two young men’s search for their brother, amongst the hard-edged drinkers in the bars in the story ‘The Broken West’.
The reader follows the brothers from bar to bar as they desperately seek the intimacy of the blood bond of their brother, so much so the pressure of it bleeds out from an emotional need to a physical one. Sex with men becomes blurred with the search for the physically familiar, the consolation of the same. Every man and no man they meet have at first-glimpse the potential to meet that need, so their search, their “Investigation” seems endless in all its damaging futility.
“Faces look different close up, and the only way to get that close to a stranger is to kiss them or choke them.”
Throughout the tale the one brother Daniel is desperate for the sexual and physical connection of the other brother Jack. Gay love is entwined with incest in a tortured knot of need. The twist comes in the final paragraph when Daniel encounters a random man who has all the features of their lost brother. Daniel says nothing. The reader is left knowing that finding what they both seek will lose what one brother wants most.
The theme of longing for something runs through the collection, with all the desperation and emptiness that accompanies it. It is a theme mastered and explored in all its forms, notably the search for love, for identity, for freedom and for home. Arguably, the worst longing perhaps is for that which is gone for good – the longing that accompanies grief.
The story ‘Feeding’, for example, is truly haunting in its vivid depiction of a mother’s loss of a baby. The parched earth of the garden the bereaved tries to nurture into life symbolises the hopelessness of bereavement. The emotional toll is embodied in the stark unravelling of the mother starving herself to death. When the relief of the rain comes it is too late.
“Shelley lies among the tomato plants…Her cheeks are concave, her collarbones so sharp they seem about to pierce her chest. Her belly is famine-swollen, tight and round in the cup of her hip bones. The rain falls into her eyes.”
Kirsty Logan is a writer’s writer. By that I mean she inspires a creative vision which is expansive and borderless. She reminds the writer that your work is only limited by the courage to write down the idea, the vision conjured in your head.
I am excited by the further work of hers I will read and excited by the prospect of the work she has inspired in me to write.
Kirsty Logan is a professional daydreamer. She is the author of two novels, The Gloaming and The Gracekeepers, and two story collections, A Portable Shelter and The Rental Heart & Other Fairytales. She lives in Glasgow with her wife and their rescue dog. She has tattooed toes. www.kirstylogan.com
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