Favourites of 2022

Last night I was visited by three ghosts who told me I need to get my arse in gear and hurry up with my annual ‘Favourites of the Year’ post.

As ever, my end of year list is in no particular order and the only criteria is that the piece must have been published in 2022. (There are still so many great books out this year I haven’t read and still want to, this is not an exhaustive or objective list, certainly not what I’d call a ‘Best of’, just some stories I really loved this year which I want to highlight, tell you about, recommend.)

So, to placate the spirits, here we go:

Sadie, Call the Polis by Kirkland Ciccone (2022, Fledgling Press)

With the best title of the year, Sadie, Call the Polis is the companion novel to Kirkland Ciccone’s incredible 2020 book Happiness Is Wasted on Me.

Beginning in the seventies, we follow the story of Sadie Relish’s life up till now, hearing – in Sadie’s inimitable sarcastic tones – the trials and tribulations of growing up in a poor suburb as something of an outcast, all the while circling the dark secret of her family.

As with Happiness, bleak times sit side by side with brilliant humour, and Sadie has cemented Ciccone as one of my favourite Scots writers. Certainly one for fans of Ely Percy’s Duck Feet and Douglas Stuart’s lauded Shuggie Bain.

Nudes by Elle Nash (2022, 404 Ink)

And with the best dedication of the year (“For my daddy”), Elle Nash’s first collection of short stories, Nudes, explores the lives of working-class women, many of whom live in a miasma of drugs, sex, and bad relationships.

Reading Nash for the first time is like reading Raymond Carver for the first time. I was blown away by the expert sculpting of the prose. There’s nothing out of place, everything weighted, measured, made to look effortless. Nash, however, taps more directly into emotion with some powerful results.

‘Dead to Me’, about a new mother, literally had me stop to take a break from the collection for a while, it was crushing.

‘Livestream’, about a woman who makes money by streaming videos of herself binge eating then vomiting it back up, is part of a recurring interest in both the seamier side of online life and questions about ownership or otherwise of our bodies which gives the collection a tonal through line. Put it to the top of your TBR.

(At the launch of this book, author Chris McQueer plainly asked Nash “How are you so good?” and, yeah, how?!)

The Black Dog Eats the City by Chris Kelso (re-issue 2022, West Vine Press)

Lisa Simpson: Just remember the spirit of the season.

Homer Simpson: Is it despair?

Yes! And Kris Kringle, I mean Chris Kelso, has you covered this year with the re-issue of his first novel, The Black Dog Eats the City, where depression takes the form of a contagious disease ripping through a bleak cityscape. The fragmented story follows a man whose family have just succumbed to the disease who sets out to find the mythical cure, wading through the wasted remnants of humanity along the way.

With original drawings and poetry excised from the narrative, this is a slimmer director’s cut, Kelso returning to lend the hand of experience to his younger self while still trying to keep the red raw emotional truth – anxious and angry as it is – of his early work on display. A work which garnered him cult status along with furious emails, death threats, and calls for him to be sacked from his job.

Depression is a difficult subject matter to be sure but I think Kelso’s artistic vision of it is as close to getting the true feeling down on paper as you could hope.

The Second Cut by Louise Welsh (2022, Canongate)

The long-awaited sequel to Louise Welsh’s bombastic debut The Cutting Room (2002), grumpy auctioneer and reluctant detective Rilke is back to solve the suspicious death of an old friend – a middle-aged party boy the police aren’t bothered about because of his lifestyle.

20 years ago, Welsh turned modern Glasgow into a rainswept Gothic underworld of sex, drugs, and casual nihilism, while flipping the heteronormative tropes of crime fiction on their head with style and wit. Rilke walked the grey areas, balancing on a tightrope between doing what is right and what will keep him alive, his reckless spirit always threatening to tip him to either side.

Now a little older and a little more careful, The Second Cut sees Rilke contemplating what happens to men like him as they age, seeing the intolerances of the Section 28 era returning in mutated form, and, of course, getting himself up to his hairline in trouble. A sequel worth waiting for.

Night Swimming with Godzilla by Claire O’Conner in New Writing Scotland 40: nobody remembers the birdman (2022, ASL)

Q: Is Godzilla actually in it or is the title just taken from some throwaway line in the story?

A: Godzilla is actually in it.

They go night swimming with the narrator who works at a bar where Godzilla stops by for a few drinks. And though I sound flippant there, it’s really a wonderful short story, one full of big questions on love and existence, bringing together the mundane – a break-up – with the supernatural – Godzilla chatting with you over a pitcher of Bud Lite.

It’s the kind of story I wish I’d written.

(I also want to mention Scott McNee’s short play ‘Jellyfish’ from this same issue of NWS, which is also brilliant, tremendously weird and funny.)

Extra Teeth Issue 5

Teef! Teef! Teef! I’ve been a huge fan of Extra Teeth since its first issue three years ago and it continues to hit it out the park with each new issue – a tightly curated selection of top-notch stories that stay with you (both emotionally resonant and delightfully experimental in style), insightful non-fiction essays, and probably the best design/style/look of any mag going.

My standouts from Issue 5 are ‘Space Raiders’ by Ely Percy (a zombie apocalypse story done very much in their own style), ‘Popo’s Second-Best Cleaver’ by Sean Wai Keung (an essay on death in Chinese culture and language – though I am massively oversimplifying what is a brilliantly layered piece of writing here), and ‘Half’ by Sandra Alland (I don’t want to spoil this one so will say nowt).

That said, it hardly seems fair to choose favourites. I also regret that prior to writing this I still haven’t found time to read Issue 6, so I’m almost certainly missing something that should be on this list.

Poetry

I’m not a massive reader of poetry, but I have dipped my toe in this year and there are a couple of collections I really enjoyed: Star Muck Bourach by David Ross Linklater (Wish Fulfilment Press) and The Nakedness of the Fathers by Samuel Tongue (Broken Sleep Books). Both excellent, both from wonderful indie presses, and both sound amazing read aloud. (Read aloud like no one is listening, as the saying goes.)


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