Rebecca Lloyd is a writer of exquisitely dark tales who I've discovered courtesy of those remarkable people at Tartarus Press. Mercy and Other Stories includes new material from her as well as stories published elsewhere between 2002 and 2014.
The opening piece is Mercy itself, which explores with subtlety and tenderness the transience of beauty, but not necessarily of love. "We all want to hold on to cherished things, for life is quickly gone." Mercy is short, sharp and sweet, and showcases perfectly Lloyd's remarkable gift for the short story. The Careless Hour is next, a more complex tale with a fascinating premise. The noises from an adjoining house take on sinister significance as the protagonist fears for the sanity of her neighbour, Michael. When he invites a girl, Catherine, for a meal, she hears enough through the thin walls to be concerned; but not enough to understand. The Careless Hour is a tale of half-truths and subtle deceptions, and grips the reader to the end.
The Meat Freezer is a different prospect. Gary has an unsavoury past, and has been allocated a house on the rough Ackroyd estate in which to return to the community. His strange observations of a trespassing youth whom he thinks of as 'Icarus' forms the backbone of this hard-hitting story; but is it reality, or his past coming back to haunt him? The truth might just be too painful to know. What Comes is almost a haunted house story, but is so much more than that. Cath and Martin are moving into an old cottage, and confronting issues between Cath and Martin's mother, Patricia. She does not approve of the relationship nor the property. However, for a while things are fine, and Martin, an artist, finds inspiration. However, a damp stain over the kitchen door is spreading. As they tackle this problem, something is disturbed within the fabric of the house that reveals darkly powerful local folklore.
The Bath is one of Lloyd's better known stories, dealing with the desperation and pressures in a poor neighborhood. Gavin Bauble lives alone, as it would seem his wife has deserted him; "She wouldn't join in, that's all. No one's better than anyone else in Cotton Street". His home has become a shrine to the past, and is cluttered to the ceiling; but does it house something more precious, something that will have to be released?
Perhaps the most straightforward tale here, Maynard's Mountain is nonetheless compelling, and gently humorous. A poor family is initially torn apart by the careless loss of a winning lottery ticket; so Daddy decides to burrow into the side of the local dump, where the rubbish bag containing the item would have been taken. Eventually this project involves all the members of the family, each with their own tunnel; but if it is found, would this threaten their newly-found closeness? In The Reunion, a dream-like tale of a visit to a stately home (Shuttered House) to visit eccentric parents, I am reminded a little of Aickman's The Unsettled Dust; and this collection is brought elegantly to a close.
These are wonderfully written tales, dealing with life, love, relationships and the loss thereof in a thoroughly believable way, and with a depth not present in many works of short fiction. The way Lloyd interweaves the past with the present is hugely impressive, and adds an extra dimension to her impressive body of work. This has been one of my books of the year so far.