The View From Endless Street is a quiet collection that demonstrates Rebecca Lloyd’s talent as an observational writer. The full gamut of witty and perceptive character sketches contained within its pages is capable by turns of painting the murderer, the fire eater, the eel farmer and the homeless. Together they evoke the macabre and the fantastic in their presentation of isolation, heartbreak and loss.
He singled one of them out and glowered at her, rubbing the burning torch over the flesh of his belly and licking his lips. The cool look she returned hurt him, and for a moment, he lost concentration and burnt his flesh on the hot wire. The world had changed… the fact of it left him in a state of bewilderment that frequently turned to fear…
Powerful imagery is intermingled with an inherent eccentricity and together these conjure stirring and memorable scenes from the lives of a series of dispossessed and dislocated characters. Throughout the collection, these characters play out their life stories against their romantic and familial counterparts; Lloyd cleverly interposes their sense of status quo by introducing them to their binary opposites. In “The Snow Room” a brother and sister obsess over their personal insecurities, unaware of the gulf that is opening between them; they exist eternally trapped by their need of each other.
After their mother died, they’d talked from time to time about one of them moving out, but neither quite knew how to go about it. Janet suspected that if somebody had ever chosen either of them as a lover, the lucky one would have moved out quickly and left the other in the creaking flat without remorse. Luck of that magnitude, though, was wildly unrealistic as they were not beautiful.
This passage is typical of the brilliance of this collection. Lloyd constantly underwrites herself, imparting knowledge as though it were fact and then dashing our hopes immediately. Indeed, this passage also elucidates a further theme that preoccupies the collection: that of personal loneliness. In each fiction characters regress and act against change. Rather than documenting the careful reconstruction of the aftermath (as is popular in short fiction currently) Lloyd makes the brave decision to tackle the moments leading up to the action. The View From Endless Street details the deep breath taken by those with little strength for the mighty and noble deeds of the novel and is masterful in its sensitivity.
“Cheerfully alone? I’ve never heard of that. I’m cheerful because of you. Because we’re together, and safe.”
The View From Endless Street builds its tension like a comic telling the darkest of jokes. The glee with which Lloyd reveals the inevitable twists curls across the page with all the qualities of banker’s saccharine grin; these are wily fictions that wryly reveal the reader’s prejudices and punish them for their snap decisions – especially in the wonderfully off-kilter “Don’t Drink the Water”, in which a husband’s chauvinism threatens to cost him more than just his wife while on holiday in Turkey:
“I need a drink.”
“Here you are then, drink this.” Sandy seized the bottle from the windowsill and threw it at the bed.
Jim picked it up and held it too the light. “Looks fine to me,” he said. “I’ll take my chances.” And opening the lid, took a long swig from it, watching his wife’s face closely as he drank.
Whether she be poking silent fun at the misfortune of an indecisive escapist or exploring the fraught gender-political landscape of the Middle East, Lloyd’s fictions are written in a sharp and precise prose that compliments the wry humour on display. Free from drab sentimentality, The View From Endless Street is an inspiring debut that is subtler than Pratchett, sillier than Dahl and truer than Carter – fair company for all.
Phillip Clement studied English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University. Since he left there he has lived in a library, written short stories and reviewed books. Currently he is preparing to begin a PhD exploring themes of identity and self in fiction.