Some Possible Solutions by Helen Philips : When You are in the Mood for Bizarre Stories
17th September, 2017
Some Possible Solutions is a collection of 18 short stories that are strange, unsettling and often slip into a dystopian world. A woman wonders if her babies are aliens. A new mother finds the city filled with copies of herself. A world where your perfect hermaphrodite exists in another planet. A world exists where only the rich can enjoy nature.
Helen’s writing is eccentric, the characters quirky and the endings take you by surprise. Most of the stories deal with themes of disconnect, loneliness and marriage, often narrated with strong flavours of surrealism. The author’s charm lies in taking a mundane scene from everyday life and transforming it into something inexplicable and strange. Many characters find themselves in a bizarre situations or worlds that they are unable to adjust to. I loved how, in many stories, the characters are trying to make sense of their world, just as the reader reading them. It was interesting to compare this work with another collection of magical realism short stories that I read recently named These Circuses that Sweep through the Landscape by Tejaswini Apte Rahm. Both the books bring out the strangeness in everyday happenings, yet the writing style in which either book is executed shows a lot of variation.
The Knowers was a chilling read. How would you live life if you knew the exact date when you will die? I loved the story and I kept imagining myself in the same position as the protagonist. What a devastating piece of knowledge!
Some Possible Solutions was an interesting read. Usually I have noticed that I seldom enjoy the title story in a short story collection. Helen handles the various solutions (if at all they may be called solutions) that sprout in her imagination with ease. In the first of the many snippets included, we see a woman happily living with an electronic ‘MyMan’ who seems to be experiencing difficulties due to a technical glitch. Helen’s sarcasm glows when she says, “Even things with perfect cocks have terrible problems.” I did not love all the sections of this story, but ‘MyMan’ was a great read.
The Doppelgangers was a favourite in the collection. A new mother realizes that the whole town is full of copies of herself and her family. The line between reality and imagination blurs as we read which makes it a bizarre read. Moreover, it has an added depth of how a woman struggles between her own needs and new motherhood and how the world around seems to change into another version of her own home. Is it what she sees or what she chooses to see? I loved the story.
The dystopian world in Contamination Generation is a possible reality. The world has crumbled into a case of extreme environmental degradation and only the rich have the pleasure of indulging in nature. The story begins with a father taking his daughter to a Botanical Garden to see grass but cannot explain to her why we need grass. The daughter who loves Wavemaker more than the sea feels like grass is a weird kind of floor.
In The Joined, we see a dystopian world where you can be matched to your perfect counterpart of an alien in another planet and then live as one being. Some are matched, while some wait patiently for a happy or sad ending.
Children is about a woman who is convinced her children are aliens.
The Messy Joy of the Final Throes of the Dinner Party was another excellent story. This would make a wonderful short film too. A woman at a dinner party realizes that time has frozen for all, except her.
My favourites among the above are The Knowers, Contamination Generation and Doppelgangers. Some of the stories had a different structure (experimental?) but that was lost on me. Game, Things we do are some are some stories that did not work for me at all.
Final Verdict :
This was a very difficult book to review. I loved some of the stories but some, especially in the second half of the collection, did not capture my interest. If you are someone who enjoys magical realism as a genre, this would be a nice pick.
Title : Some Possible Solutions
Author : Helen Philips
Publisher : Pushkin Press
Publication: 2017 (Originally in 2016)
Language : English
Pages : 224
Rating : 3/5
Disclaimer : Much thanks to Pushkin Press for a copy of the book. All opinions are my own.
Do you enjoy books with strange stories? Any recommendations?