REVIEW: All That's Fair by SH Cooper
*WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS*
It took me a long time to finish SH Cooper's All That’s Fair, once I’d started it. Not because it’s a bad book - quite the opposite, in fact. No, it took me a long time to finish it because there’s so much in it - so much meat on its bones, and so much to digest in its 22 stories. I found myself spacing them out; nibbling at them, a couple or a handful at a time. Savouring the taste of them.
Every story is dense, multi-layered, thought-provoking. And the collection as a whole is beyond varied - its stories spanning times and places, styles and themes (from ‘40s noir to war and reparation) while still managing, somehow, to feel cohesive.
I absolutely loved it.
My inclination with edited collections is to take them story by story, or cluster by cluster, but the sheer diversity of tales on offer in All That’s Fair makes that near impossible. So instead, I’ll restrict the focus to my Top 5 - with a couple of honourable mentions thrown in.
Honourable Mention 1: No Love Lost
An affecting, though still horrifying take on Alzheimer’s and the remembrance of things past, this one is likely to strike a chord with anyone who’s ever suffered for being who they are, out in the world.
Honourable Mention 2: Twelve Hands
I’m a sucker for folklore (God knows, I’ve written enough about it) and this introduced me to a(n interestingly horrible) mythological creature I’d never heard of previously. (And if that creature sprung wholesale from Cooper’s imagination rather than any local legend - well, so much the better). This one also has a Tales of the Unexpected-style twist at its conclusion that I didn’t see coming but that I found oddly satisfying.
5 - The Crone’s Wood
Another story that builds up to a last-minute twist in the tale, this one is propelled forward by a monster that was all human, but no less unsettling for being so. The representation of teenage friendship and its dissolution - and the cruelty that dissolution sometimes brings - also cuts like a knife.
4 - Vermelda
Creepy-ass marionettes: that’s all I’m going to say about this one. Is there anyone they don’t frighten?
3 - Self-Made
A revenge story wrapped up in a haunted-object premise, this one perhaps more than any of the other stories seems to me as if it’s crying out to be adapted for television. It’s short, but the questions it raises (and the other untold stories nestling like Matryoshka dolls inside the main narrative) could go very, very long. Orange Is The New Black long.
2 - The One
If Self-Made feels like the prologue to a mini-series, then The One is full-on Classical Hollywood - in premise, and in execution. There’s something a little bit Big Sleep about its central femme fatale, something a little bit Sunset Boulevard (or at least, a little bit Norma Desmond-ish) about her character’s trajectory, and something very Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? about the central relationship it depicts. Wonderful stuff.
1 - And Miyoko Waited
An absolute masterpiece of a story - the type of story that should be winning Stokers, and more. There’s a lot going on in this one, thematically - meditations on the sins of the past, and on war and atrocity, to name a couple - but the picture of violence and violation it paints is also horrifically well-executed; so much so, in fact, that I had to put it down and step away from one scene for a few minutes before I could continue. And Miyoko Waited is powerful, bloody and exactly as uncomfortable as it ought to be. Again: an absolute masterpiece.
Overall: All That’s Fair is out right now. Why wait another minute to read it?