Slipping by Lauren Beukes
|Formatt:||Paperback / Ebook|
|Genre(s):||Science Fiction / Fantasy / Short Stories|
|Release Date:||November 29, 2016|
Slipping by Lauren Beukes is a collection of previously published short stories and nonfiction. Having read—and loved—two of her novels, The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters, I jumped at the chance to read this collection. Everything I liked about her novels I found here: dark and unsettling imagery, relationships forming and exploding, clever turns of phrase, and striking details amid chaos. Oh, and there’s also a story of a female mecha pilot battling giant hairballs over Tokyo with the help of Haruki Murakami.
There isn’t an overt theme to this collection, although themes do persist from story to story and some stories were written for themed anthologies. Perhaps the closest we get to a theme is a line from the first piece of nonfiction, “Adventures in Journalism”:
And I’ve learned to use this in my fiction, to find the telling details that speak to a subtext, to develop an ear for how people speak and speak differently…Every person I speak to gives me a new perspective, a different lens. It’s made my writing more than it would have ever been. And it’s still an excuse to go adventuring.
As I read these stories, I repeatedly got pulled in by Beukes’s characters. They are a diverse bunch: athletes, fighters, lovers, stalkers, mobsters, artists, celebrities, soldiers, and students. They are ambitious, aggressive, sad, and scared. With only a couple lines of dialog (international snippets of slang, a threat implied by the typos of a sticky keyboard, or the corporate devil on a character’s shoulder pushing them to sell out, just a little bit more), I instantly understood and identified with them.
But no matter how weird or disturbing or fantastic the story, Beukes’s journalistic eye would point to a detail to ground the story, making it real. Or the details round out the story, giving the stories an added layer of texture, more filled out.
The collection begins with “Muse,” a one-pager that hints at what is to come: beauty and blood. Next is the eponymous story, “Slipping” about a competition where there are no limits to body modifications, drugging, and enhancements. Competitors are lab rats, hoping to earn the eye (and dollars) of militaries and corporations if they can prove the value of their mad science experiments. “Smileys” details the shifting power dynamics between the criminals and the poor in South Africa. “Princess” is a retelling of the fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea,” only she finds a pea not between her mattresses but between her legs. “Pop Tarts” is the story of just how cutthroat and real reality TV can become. “Litmash” is a series of Twitter flash fiction inspired by genre mash-ups sent to Beukes.
“Algebra” tells the story of a relationship told through letters of the alphabet (a is for algebra, b is for braggadocio, and so on). While in lesser hands this conceit could quickly become tiresome, with Beukes, there is clever wordplay and a complexity to her alphabet that elevated it. “Unathi Battles the Black Hairballs” is unique among the collection—it’s sillier, more frenetic, like an action movie or manga in text form. And then it transforms into another story halfway through. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the hell out of it, but it is the odd story in the bunch.
“Dear Mariana” turns the typos of an imperfect typewriter into something creepy and outright menacing. “Riding with the Dream Patrol” blends reality and fiction: it’s a news article written by a journalist named Lauren Beukes about a near future government surveillance agency monitoring and silencing citizens in the name of freedom. “Exhibitionist” contains a weird and horrific art installation and a bloody bit of performance art that still makes me shudder.
Of her nonfiction, I enjoyed them all, but the two that stood out for me were “All the Pretty Corpses” and “On Beauty: A Letter to My Five-Year-Old Daughter.” The former talks about the way society portrays the victims of crime—if the victim’s story is told at all, it is only the story of her death (not of her life), and once dead, it’s not her story any more. Instead, her body becomes a chapter in the story of her killer who is often built up into someone almost superhuman instead of the banal loser the killer usually is. When a family friend is killed, Beukes experiences this more closely than normal, and it inspires her to write The Shining Girls. “On Beauty” is a letter in which Beukes works to help her daughter realize there is more to her than how society sees her body. What got me about this letter is that Beukes knows those societal pressures and messages are so much stronger and incessant than a mother’s words, but she tries anyway.
At 288 pages, this is a somewhat slim collection, and every reader is bound to find some stories better than others. But I didn’t find any to be outright duds. Whether the story takes place in present day, the near future, or somewhere else entirely, through sharp use of dialogue and description, readers instantly get a handle on her characters as they experience fear, love, hate, joy, confusion, exploitation, and adventure. The stories are funny and freaky, sad and scary. They are bold and beautiful, violent and vibrant. Beukes’s talent is on display chapter after chapter, and I think this is a great introduction to her writing. Pick this up, and when you’re done, grab one of her novels.