Here Is What You Do
PublisherSoho Press
Date Published25 June 2019
Price£ 7.99

Here Is What You Do

by Chris Dennis

A collection of haunting short stories set around the USA and featuring a wide variety of people, but all involving pain or loss.


This collection of eight short stories features a wide variety of human subjects, told in turn in first, second and third person, present and past tense. Events and commentary by the people involved are delivered in an impressionistic way, giving direct access to feelings which a reader is normally expected to surmise from external events.
The collection kicks off with the story which gives its title to the book, the story of the relationship a young teacher jailed on a drug charge forms with a brutal cellmate. This is a Galaxy follows, featuring the son of a gay Turkish immigrant whose life falls apart when his father is attacked, and then In Motel Rooms, where Coretta Scott King reflects on her life with her husband Martin Luther.
In Nettles the wife of a man pursuing a dream of rural rediscovery tells how it all went wrong. The Book-eating Ceremony features a lesbian writer obsessed with aspects of her sexuality and In the Martian Summer shows a widow prone to sexual adventures falling victim to a tsunami. The book concludes with Gordon Now (a girl with an ambivalent feeling towards a relative) and Dioramas where a mother gradually loses contact with reality.
It would be fair to say that the stories all involve pain or loss, with plenty of ugliness and disfunction. Dreams, or nightmares, often play a part; many passages have a dream-like quality, and although the stories are anchored by practical detail, it is the feelings and recollections which predominate. The sense of dislocation in the lives depicted is enhanced by the frequently unexpected direction of the narrative.
The author often throws in statements which bring the reader up short. ‘Pauline carried herself with the passive authority of a politician’s wife or a middle-income sex worker’. This sort of thing tends to interrupt the reader’s rhythm and call for thought, whether or not you finally decide that such a statement is profound or merely shallow but murky.
The mixture of emotions laid bare by Chris Dennis’ prose equate to a pretty dark vision of human needs: desire, cruelty, hope all emerge in a very raw state, sometimes shocking, but the picture always believable, and very haunting.

Reviewed 09 November 2019 by Chris Roberts