Book Review : Lauren Beukes - Slipping : Stories, Essays & Other Writing (2016)
South African author Lauren Beukes has conquered the publishing industry with exquisite supernatural thrillers such as The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters, which I had the privilege of reading last summer. Everybody loves her work, including myself. Being admired comes with its own set of issues, though. Mainly that people develop expectations towards your work. I sure had high expectations when I started her latest collection Slipping: Stories, Essays and Other Writing and these expectations were neither met or subverted. Lauren Beukes' undeniable talent ended up shining through the shaky concept of Slipping: Stories, Essays and Other Writing, but I don't believe this collection does justice to her immense talent. And it's not REALLY her fault.
This is a weird thing with collections like this. They don't work well for everyone.
Let's start with what worked. The flash pieces in Slipping: Stories, Essays and Other Writing are some of the best I've ever read. Dial Tone, where an unnamed narrator calls people at random, was my favorite. It would've been a great starter to a novel because it expresses an untold sense of loss and trauma that immediately makes us (well, made me) sympathetic. Thought it was a gripping couple pages. I loved the story Princess too, which I thought was adorably crass and clever. It deconstructs fairy tales in an appropriate fashion for the twenty first century. Lauren Beukes' essays were also great. I would've read an entire collection of them, to be honest, because they perhaps reflect best the awesome novelist she has become. I particularly enjoyed All the Pretty Corpses, where she discusses writing The Shining Girls to confront clichés in mystery novels. It pretty much sold me the book.
The problem I had with Slipping: Stories, Essays and Other Writing is a problem I've had with several other short story collections: it's all over the place. I started this book expecting a lot of what Broken Monsters delivered. Not necessarily supernatural crime material, but Lauren Beukes has a way to explore her characters' intimacy, which she showed in Dial Tone and Confrim/Ignore for example, that makes her writing stand out. There is surprisingly little of that in Slipping: Stories, Essays and Other Writing. Surprisingly enough, there's a LOT of colorful cyberpunk stories like Slipping or Unathi Battles the Black Hairballs about young women, robots, cyborgs and cities that have lost control over themselves. These are not poorly written or anything, they're just really out the left field They completely clash with the identity Lauren Beukes crafted for herself as a writer and they're quite frankly just not my thing. They're stories I wouldn't have read otherwise whether they came from Beukes or William Gibson himself.
There's a lot of figuring out in Slipping: Stories, Essays and Other Writing. It's not uncommon for any writers to try their hands at many genres in order to get a stronger grasp on what works for them and what doesn't. That's what short stories are for. Some authors have such a cohesive paradigm they can put their stories together in a collection at any time, but very few of them have such a well-defined "thing". I don't think any less of Lauren Beukes after reading Slipping: Stories, Essays and Other Writing. She's still very talented and I'm bound to read The Shining Girls at some time this year. This collection, though is for Beukes' superfans and obsessive completists who have to read everything from writers they like. She has written many novels you should check out before that.