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Need

by Robert Thomson

The best short stories (think of those by Alice Munro, James Joyce, and Raymond Carver) resonate with the reader long after the covers are closed, and yield more on each subsequent reading. Most short stories offer brief diversions and fade quickly from memory. Need, a collection by Robert Thomson, editor of Fab magazine, barely registers at all.

The 16 stories in this slim collection, set predominantly in the gay milieu of a large, unnamed city, rarely distinguish themselves. Many cannot properly be called stories at all; lacking narrative momentum, they are single scenes or incidents, populated with superficial, glib caricatures, devoid of genuine human feeling. This results in a sameness of tone that quickly becomes wearying. Thomson shows little affection for his characters, making it difficult for the reader to have any.

In a few stories, other problems come to the fore. Thomson’s dialogue rarely rises above that of a television sitcom. Many of the stories are surprisingly pedestrian. Where he has an interesting idea, Thomson himself scuttles it at almost every turn: the twist ending of “brad descending” is so clunky and mean-spirited it destroys the tone of the otherwise powerful story; “maria von frank n. trap furter” is handled so clumsily one quickly loses interest, despite the charismatic and compelling protagonist.

Need isn’t a complete loss: “room for patrick” and “for the love of ella” are both clever, in the traditional manner of Saki, while “opportunity” succinctly captures the slide into madness. Thomson does have potential as a writer; maybe the follow-up to Need will better capture it.