They hook you in hard, the people whose lives fill Wendy Erskine’s debut collection, but you wouldn’t want to trade places with any of them. To borrow from the balding man in a grey jacket, who makes a brief appearance commenting on the music of a fictional Belfast rocker in the penultimate story, each of these acutely observed portraits “penetrates to the heart of what it means to be lonely, or in love or to feel a failure”. An exceptional ear for dialogue, an impeccable semantic rhythm and an uncanny ability to tease laughter out of the darkest moments mean Erskine is perfectly poised to stare, unflinching, into our neoliberal abyss. The result is a gripping, wonderfully understated book that oozes humanity, emotion and humour.
Erskine’s narration is anecdotally brisk and her dialogue zippy and frequently funny. Descriptions are lightly sketched, aided by the occasional playfully weird simile... Sweet Home is an arch and affectionate homage to the low-level dysfunction that gives a place its sense of character. Flouting the creative writing dogma that a short story must conclude with a bracing epiphany, several of these tales round off on a distinctly bathetic note – suggestive of muddling continuity rather than resolution.
Instances of silence within her stories are as effective as rests in a music score, where the rest is to emphasize the rhythm. And, although her rhythm is a distinctly Belfast one, it could be any city where the elements of privilege and want stand cheek by jowl, the best example possibly being the title story... Erskine’s eye for pinprick detail in her characters is flawless... Erskine’s very fine pen reminds me of Berlin’s, maybe with a Belfast accent.
...a dry wit that is often found in the most unlikely places.The downtrodden in the community is a focus for Erskine, as is the importance of work for people who are struggling or rebuilding their lives after trauma... Erskine shows restraint as a writer, dealing sensitively with material that has the potential to be salacious or overdramatised... The penultimate story shows stylistic ambitions beyond the rest... The form, particularly at the beginning, makes it easy to scan... Erksine is at her best when she gives the narrative over to the authoritative, pulsating voices of her characters.