Review: Tender Cuts by Jayne Martin


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Tender Cuts is a collection of thirty-eight one-page, square slice-life stories where love and pain make their incisions of beauty and butchery. A child sits inches from the TV screen to drown out their parents’ fighting, a daughter is haunted by her fussy mother’s ghost, a woman marries a 1985 Buick Lesabre and a widower spreads the ashes of her lover in the places he loved most – these are just a few of the stories this marvellous book has to offer. Whether you are new to flash fiction or a seasoned connoisseur, this little book has plenty to offer!

The language of this book won me over from the first page: no one word is wasted in these stories, each sentence deliveries another cut of emotion. Jayne Martin’s background in writing television has no doubt assisted her in ‘capturing the moment’ and whittling down what is necessary to a story, how it can be compacted and then translated by the reader without losing of the crackle of raw impact. At the same time, Martin makes these stories intimately relatable, often I wondered whether these stories were truly fiction or real captured moments of people’s lives. My favourite story was ‘A Lobster Walks into A Laundromat’, whether a regular group of disenchanted housewives feel young again in the presence of an attentive lobster:

Between wash and rinse cycles, the women would vie for the lobster’s attention with tips about stain removers and fabric softeners, and the lobster would listen, attentive as if they were spouting sonnets or Shakespeare and each woman would feel special and seen.

The lobster only admits a few sounds ‘like that of a bow across the strings of a violin’, what matters most to the ladies is that he looks at them and listens to them. The magical-surrealist fact he is a lobster is merely a metaphor for attention: it doesn’t matter where the attention comes from, as long as it comes. It is never begged for or forced upon them by the clean crustacean, he is merely a presence that says: I see you, yes you are valued. For me this story best displays Martin’s talent at subtle wit and humour, her ability to mix deep human values with something as ridiculous as a lobster in a laundromat.

My only wish is that there had been a better balance of sorrow and humour/happy. I felt there were too many ‘cuts’ compared to the ‘tenderness’ I expected. My only other query was that while the book is beautifully designed, I felt the black-and-white symbol-pictures between each story gave that little too much of a teaser as to what the next story contained. For me, it gave too much away so that I was braced for the impact. I didn’t want to be protected: I wanted to be ripped apart. Saying that, the book is beautifully designed and Vine Leaves Press have done a stunning job. Just a quick scan through Vine Leaves Press’ catalogue of titles is enough to demonstrate the tender care and craft this press takes with its book-covers.

The stories are clean cut, standalone firecrackers – save for one three-part story of Julie-Sue, who we see at various stages of her mother’s pageant campaign. At the end we see a glimmer of foreshadowing as the controlled child-now-teen destroys her mother’s ideals: The cheap plastic crown crumbles beneath the force of Julie-Sue’s bare heel. Each of these tales could be expanded into longer stories, but none of them could feel more potent than they do in their minute form: they are naked, the bare bones, the spotlight and the mirror.

This book was sent to me digitally for free in exchange for an honest review by Lori Hettler of TNBBC Publicity, a small press book publicist who specializes in literary fiction. Please visit her website: http://tnbbcpublicity.com/ to find out how you could get your book promoted!