Alys Key

Yes Yes More More

Yes Yes More More, Anna Wood, The Indigo Press, 2021, 194pp, £10.99, (Paperback)

By the time the protagonist of the final story in Anna Wood’s new collection has been in New Orleans for a few days she finds herself very pleased with the city’s atmosphere: ‘Annie was bewitched by this easy life, so brilliant and simple and busy.’ This bewitchment is also the prevailing mood of the book. In Yes Yes More More life is quite often easy, if only for a moment, and Wood captures the simple, busy lives of the characters at their most brilliant.

‘Slices of life’ is overused to describe short story collections, but there really is no better application of the term than there is here. Wood’s characters go on holiday, out to lunch, on train journeys, to the pub. And sometimes there is not much more to the story than that. The skill lies in faithfully representing the details and progression of an experience and the parts of it that will later crystallise into memory. Wood’s prose is conversational while the atmosphere is heady, and so the whole impression is of someone relating a dream they have had, or their bleary recollections of a night out.

The stories in the collection are interlinked, but truth be told this aspect passed me by at first, in part because the character names – Annie and Claire and Julie – left little impression on me. I eventually started making a note of the names that cropped up in each story on my bookmark, and would recommend keeping track in a similar way as this does enrich the reading experience. While the stories stand alone well enough they take on a little more sense of purpose when the connections become apparent.

Quite often I expected something bad to happen. But misfortune, while it is never out of the question, rarely intrudes. In ‘Rise Up Singing’ two teenage girls take drugs and go clubbing, then return safely home for Horlicks and television. In ‘Love! Love!’ the narrator has a sexual encounter in a pub bathroom, and the fact that it is not with her boyfriend does not seem to matter. In ‘Wild Nights!’ a one-night stand goes rather well and turns into a two-night stand. Wood’s bewitchment of the ‘easy life’ makes the moments of darkness, when they come, sadder and more real. There is no horror movie logic to follow here, no sense of fate, just an acceptance that sometimes a friend dies or a marriage breaks down.

Even when danger feels imminent, the characters find themselves surprisingly unbothered. In ‘At the Log Cabin’, the story with the most genre flavour, two women hear a strange noise outside their isolated holiday cabin in the woods. But when the narrator follows her friend into the trees, her fear disappears. ‘She wasn’t worried now, she just felt cosseted. The woods held her.’ The main character of ‘Sex in New Orleans’ briefly considers the possibility that her taxi driver might be abducting her, and just accepts the idea. ‘I’m enjoying this ride through the city, smelling the warm wet air,’ she thinks, ‘even if you kill me and throw me in the Mississippi’.

The dreamlike quality of some of the stories is enhanced by the effortlessness with which their characters move through events. The livin’ is easy, as the song goes (it crops up more than once in the collection). In ‘When Can You Start?’, which won Wood the 2019 Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize, the story has a protagonist so confident of sailing through an interview of some sort that reality itself splinters, and she spends the time slipping between London and the Pyrenees – whether through her imagination or because time is collapsing in on itself, we are never quite sure.

By accident of being published this year, the book’s ease holds another meaning for us now. Simple pleasures of pre-pandemic life are plenty and on full display: travel, partying with friends and strangers, sex with someone new, lunch in a restaurant, a friend’s big wedding. After being deprived of these things for so long, many of us are realising just how precious they are as we creep back to normality. Yes Yes More More, already a trove of joy and feeling, therefore comes to us at a time when we are even more capable of appreciating it.

Review by Alys Key.

For more information and to buy Yes Yes More More by Anna Wood, click the following link to order from your local bookstore.

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