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Kenneth Steven
The Ice and Other Stories
Argyll publishing £7.99
Review by Emily Smith

 

Kenneth Steven’s short story collection, The Ice and Other Stories, walks the line between childhood and adulthood in well-crafted, elegant prose. The fourteen stories take you from love and life, to death and loss, but above all that, they take you through the process of becoming. Though Steven uses a myriad of narrative voices, the majority of the stories in the collection have child narrators, giving them a wonderful clarity and naivety of expression that is sometimes lost and over-complicated by adult narrators and mental maturity.

The title story, The Ice, is the longest in the collection. It voices perfectly the childhood attachment to one place over another, the overwhelming sense of home and security that a familiar place can bring – and the overwhelming terror felt at the prospect of leaving this sanctuary. The rural Scottish backdrop of the story wraps the reader up into the security of the home in the story, and the fear of what is outside, the school that is the source of main character Lewis’s unhappiness. The tragic and uplifting elements of the story entwine throughout, drawing the reader right through to the tragic conclusion. Steven manages the interweaving of setting and emotion perfectly, creating a mesmerising opening to his collection of short stories.

For me, though, as a writer, it was the final story in the collection that stood out for me. The Typewriter is a brilliantly clever piece of writing, limiting itself more and more as the narrator is tortured by having different keys of their typewriter removed. Surprisingly, the careful crafting that is necessary to write such a piece of fiction did nothing to detract from the emotional depth of the story, the all-too-clear dependence of the writer upon his ability to write. Though this was very different from the other stories in the book, its difference provided the perfect conclusion to The Ice and Other Stories, and was my favourite of the fourteen stories in Steven’s collection.

The collection is flanked by these two longer stories, with the other twelve shorter stories being a mixture of tenses and voices, and of tragic and uplifting elements. Each story in the collection is well-written, polished, and works well on its own, as well as being a part of a longer collection. The theme of being and becoming runs through the book and holds all the stories together. Steven is known as a poet and children’s writer, and both of these talents can be seen clearly in this collection. The poetic elements to his prose add beauty and elegance to his stories, and the voices of the children in the collection appear genuine and well-crafted.

In The Ice and Other Stories, Steven shows himself to be not only a talented poet and writer for children, but that he is also a wonderful short story writer. The lyrical melancholy of his elegant prose, and the beautiful but isolating Scottish landscape that is its backdrop, wraps up the reader in the stories, managing to strip away the outside world, so that all that is left is the world he has constructed. All in all, The Ice and Other Stories is very beautiful, enjoyable – and sometimes heartbreaking – collection, from a multi-talented writer.

 

 

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