Books & Literature

Book Review: Broken Rules and Other Stories, by Barry Lee Thompson

SHORT STORIES: A collection of interlinked stories that vividly capture the small, rarely spoken moments of our lives that reverberate with meaning, with darkness and with light.

Well-written but not my cup of tea.

This debut collection from Barry Lee Thompson is full of those ‘almost’ moments, which all too often we can come to regret. What might have happened if he had knocked on the door just once more, or had actually spoken to the American boy? The reader, just like the protagonist, is left with memories which can be built into any resolution we desire. 

Thompson grew up in a working-class area in Liverpool and he uses this background to vividly depict a sense of place in these stories. They are written from two main perspectives—a gay male viewpoint and a family relationships viewpoint, in particular between mother and son.

In The Americans, we meet an ordinary British family on their annual holiday, at a guest house in Bournemouth. The boy in the story so wants to be friends with the American boy from Boston—a place so exotic he can barely imagine it. Meanwhile, his mother has ‘a technique for garnering information. From titbits overheard … she could construct complete histories.’ Thompson’s writing really brought the scene to life for me, as I remembered similar family holidays when I was a child in England. 

The pace of these stories is often slow as much of the narrative tends to be the main character’s internal monologue. Nonetheless, the writing is tight and focused with vivid characterisation. In the first story, Their Cruel Routines, we see mother and son still living together even though they clearly dislike each other while the son, Steven, desperately wants a different life. He is cruel and smiles to himself as he deliberately annoys his mother by letting the kettle whistle too long—as if he is punishing her because he still lives at home.

At times I had problems with the lack of a traditional plot when I could not see where the story was going and even when I reached the end, was unsure of what the point of it was. But perhaps the lack of a precise point was the overall meaning of some of these short stories—that life events do not always have a neat beginning, middle, and an end.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

Distributed by: Transit Lounge
Released: 1 Sept 2020
RRP: $29.99

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