Review: BABY IS A THING BEST WHISPERED by Keely O


Now and again, you come across a short story that lights you up and you have to publish it. Electricity fizzles up your body as you read it and you want to know what happens next. The short story leaves you asking and guessing, it sticks in your mind when you are awake at 03:00am listening the foxes tangle outside. That’s the feeling I had when in November 2021 I read "Practising Tricks, Spells and Other Incantations" by Keely O’Shaughnessy. The language, imagery and the reframing of the familiar – I had to have it. And when I discovered O’Shaughnessy had published a collection that included this very story, I had to read it as I knew it would be something special. It was, it is. You need to read it.


Neil Gaiman spoke of short stories as “tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams”, Baby is a Thing Best Whispered is full of these windows, minds and dreams. In these twenty-two surreal, haunting stories we meet a mother and her daughters fleeing an abusive relationship, a bride with disabilities about to give birth, friends who have lost friends to the darker sides of life, a child’s interpretation of magic and prostitution, a mother who protects her son by turning him into a bullfrog...the list continues. Mothers, daughters and young women are at the heart of this collection, no one is happy and everything feels real.


These potent stories offer up shots of life, we drink to experience the horror of swirling reality, trapped like many of O’Shaughnessy’s characters by its viciousness. These characters are from the streets, poverty and bad lots forcing women to survive rather than thrive. In “The God, the Baby, and the Lichtenberg Figure” a woman in a loveless marriage prays to Thor for affection and new life. “Body humming, she kneels in the dust and waits” could easily describe many of O’Shaughnessy’s heroines, many are waiting for better days, many biding their time. Others escape or learn to fight, like “Teaching a Clean Front Kick” where a young girl teaches her younger sister how to fight back, so she might avoid the horrors of their Uncle Jerry. In this collection, no heroine is innocent, they are the remains of the tarnished. But as big sisters save little sisters, from sick Uncles or prostitution – such as in “Adult Teeth” – there is hope that innocence might be saved for those who came after. This book is filled with the bones of women who are still fighting, those who have fallen in battle and those hiding in the shadows ready to fire.