Everyday by Lee Rourke
Pigeons feature prominently in Lee Rourke's debut collection of short stories. Set in London, the focus on winged vermin sets the tone for a collection that has a strong seedy seam. These are stories that leave a stain, brutal and messy, but it is also a portrait of a familiar city, there under the grime. Rourke's writing is brisk, fresh and supremely readable.
These are not quite stories as such, more a series of snapshots, of vignettes, Polaroids from the not yet dead. Rourke's London is peopled by violently unhappy office drones, abusive motorists, Shoreditch media twats and the men who spend their days holding up the oversized signs for sandwich chains on Oxford Street. His characters have everyday names like Keith Price, Karl Dobson, Martin Hack – and, in one instance, Lee Rourke – and lead everyday lives, peppered with tedious bus-bound commutes and microwave meals.
The people in his stories float in and out of each other's lives, via a chain of bad dates and brief sexual liaisons, wine-misted meetings in bars. Events frequently turn violent, even – on one occasion – murderous. People snap, they break up, they break down, they break out, or at least, they try to. London has a strong hold, its grip is tight. A common theme is the chucking in of a dead end job, of people reaching their snapping point, hitting their limits and walking away. It's a familiar urban impulse, to just stop. Or, alternatively, to keep going – and going – to break free of the grind, to ride the tube to the end of line, to hop off the bus at a stop that's not yours.
Rourke mines that impulse for all it's worth, taking it in different directions, milking it. The man who abandons the office to cycle the streets of Soho searching for a girl he met only once; the man who pens a letter of resignation after watching a couple uninhibitedly making love on the roof opposite his window. Occasionally he pushes things too far, for my admittedly weedy tastes at any rate. A story set in lap dancing club where the women are decomposing and decaying, their flesh sloughing off as they writhe and grind, is perhaps too literal a depiction of a murky urban underbelly, but the collection as a whole has a real tug, a darkness that sucks at you and an appealingly skewed sense of humour.
Set mainly in Islington and Hackney, with the Kingsland Road acting as its aorta, Rourke writes of a London that has been flattened and blanded, but there is something wicked and twitchy just there under the surface, always, something feral and intoxicating; the past pokes through, the vampire wakes, rises – and bites.