by Ken Nash
ISBN 978-0-9931955-9-4. 264 pages. 1st edition. Paperback. Publication date: November 2019. Equus Press: London & Prague.
It’s possible to read Life Raft as a continuation of The Brain Harvest, Nash’s first story collection. The major themes of sundry infatuations, family relations, and the power of art to sustain us remain. But there is something new happening below the surface, lingering beneath each story. Something darker and more threatening than anything before. Yet, like with that first story collection, Life Raft remains determined to reveal that art and imagination are perhaps the only way to safely traverse such dark waters.
“Life Raft”, the title story of Nash’s new collection, makes this creative strategy nearly explicit. Nine passengers are apparently lost at sea aboard a small, inflatable raft. They have been drifting for an inexplicably long period of time. How can they survive like this? Why is it taking so long to be rescued? There is more than a whiff of Waiting for Godot here. And, as with Beckett, the subtle, dry humour neither causes nor saves us from complete despair.
Life Raft departs from The Brain Harvest in a few significant ways. Most apparently in the length and complexity of its stories. Many stories in Life Raft, such as “Clam Neck Beach” and “Tourists,” are less obviously fantastical in nature as those found before. But, most significantly, the extremes of life and death throughout Life Raft feel more urgent and pressing. The stakes higher, the way forward more perilous. Nash makes us aware that in this turbulent world of ours, art is only a precarious raft. Yet, miraculously, it seems to sustain us.
“Twenty-six tales of everyday strangeness. Each of the stories contains a kernel of brilliance, something observed or invented that will change the way you look at the world. The world of LIFE RAFT remains solidly our own, and it’s only through thinking back that I realise how weird it truly gets. In that way it feels like the perfect book for our times. Nash has distilled the twenty-first century, its simultaneous cataclysm and monotony, into pocket-sized, perfectly pick-up-able form. Perfect reading for tea breaks at the office and mass evacuations.”—Joe Darlington, Manchester Review of Books
“In these deft, quirky, darkly hilarious stories, the mundane realities of vacations, conferences, and dive bars, of delayed flights and broken furnaces, are intruded on at every turn by the surreal and absurd. Ken Nash’s narrators wander and wonder, befuddled but hopeful observers of secret worlds whose rituals they’re not entirely privy to, worlds in which nothing can be taken for granted. An aspiring milliner goes to visit a five-headed demon, with unexpected results; a rebellious artist whose medium is the weather runs afoul of the authorities; a man may or may not have encountered his own reincarnated self. In exuberant, precise prose suffused with dream logic and brilliant, luminous flashes of wonder, these stories revel in the sinister and delightful, taking the reader to a place not easily forgotten.”—Holly Tavel, author of The Weather in Fritz Bemelmans Park
“In Ken Nash’s brilliant and delightful new story collection, the world does not merely stand on end, it tumbles over again and again. Here is a world that is at once familiar and recognizable, and yet also strange and bizarre enough for the unexpected and magical to happen. A master of the casually surreal encounter (wherein the very weird is presented as the most normal thing in the world), Nash’s stories brim with wit and charm. His warm and effortlessly humorous prose recalls Calvino and Atwood — writers whose keen eyes for social foibles expose not just the world we live in, but the world we are sleepwalking ever closer to. In each of these brief vignettes, Nash skewers reality – and the myths we use to console ourselves – with the precision of a well-aimed dagger.”—Joshua Mensch, author of Because
“Ken Nash is not like the rest of us. Not only does he actually listen to what people say and how they say it, he can reproduce it expertly. In his endlessly inventive stories, Freud’s concept of the uncanny (unheimlich) applies—these eerie slices of alternate reality, set in garbage dumps and dystopian future societies, look and feel just a little too much like where we’re headed. But not only can he see into the future, he can make us laugh through our fright. There is mordant wit; there is trenchant social observation. If Ken Nash didn’t exist, we would have to invent him. But we can’t. Because inventing Ken Nash is a job for one person only: Ken Nash. We’re lucky we get to enter his weird and deeply affecting worlds.”—Donna Stonecipher, author of “Inlay (Kafka)” and The Reservoir