Four-year-old Danny lives with his Meemaw in a cramped rented flat. Like many little boys, he’s obsessed with dinosaurs and poo, loving the first and fearing the second, although perhaps not as much as he fears Karen, the new woman in his mother’s life. Is this down to Karen’s clumsiness around young children, or straightforward jealousy in a child accustomed to having his mother all to himself? Or does Danny intuit right from the start that Karen is bad news?
Danny is a highly intelligent and perceptive child, sensitive to the pressures his mother faces while raging when he doesn’t get his way. As the novel’s narrator, he’s extremely sympathetic and endearing, leaving the reader in safe hands. Despite his child-appropriate fixations, he shows the harshness of the benefits system and the way a disturbed personality can cause chaos in other lives. And how could I not love a story with more toilet scenes than the six novels I featured for World Toilet Day last year put together?
Allie Rogers’ second novel is a moving account of single parenthood on the breadline and the damage some narcissistic personalities can inflict on the vulnerable. The title comes from a documentary on dinosaurs Danny loves to watch on YouTube on his mother’s phone. Thanks to Legend Press for my advance proof copy.
This novel reminded me of both Emma Donoghue’s Room, which is also narrated by a young boy with a very close relationship to his mother in difficult circumstances, and of the rather zany The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli, which I read and reviewed a couple of years ago. For my own take on creating a child narrator, see my post The Child in the Clothes of the Criminal from the blog tour for my second novel, Underneath.
At first glance, this week’s flash fiction challenge to compose a 99-word story about forest bathing (which turns out to be Japanese for a mindful walk in a forest) doesn’t immediately throw up connections with this novel. But since Charli begins her post with some musings on contemporary and historical dentistry, I decided to make it fit. Having celebrated the UK’s flash heatwave, an interregnum between weeks of low cloud, cold and drizzle, with a walk in Sherwood Forest yesterday where, although we didn’t find any dinosaur teeth, we did spot two pairs of jays, I’ve set my story there, with a literal interpretation of forest bathing.
After a grey and soggy winter, the sun makes everyone smile. But there’s a downside: the stink of sweat.
So when the merry men go off to fleece the rich, Marian fills a barrel with spring water and peels off her clothes. Looking up as a jay calls to its mate, she spots Friar Tuck in the hollow of an oak, leering, his hand in his robe.
Do others suffer such intrusions? Robin says she should be flattered. Bids her laugh it off.
Sod serving as camp dogsbody, she’ll form her own band. Women united can change the world.
I was ready to post when I remembered that my debut novel, Sugar and Snails, features a forest walk my narrator remembers taking with her father. Well, how could I resist another opportunity to wave the flag of my brand? And to interpret the prompt as it was intended? This edited extract is from just before things go sour.
We ambled through ash and spindly silver birch, its bark like alligator skin. A squirrel scampered across the path and up a tree. We heard the tap tap tap of a woodpecker but, despite straining our eyes and necks to scan the treetops, it remained elusive. Somehow, it didn’t matter; the shared not-seeing was enough.
I pressed further into the woods to inspect some bracken fungus clinging to the trunk of a dead tree like shelves made of scallops. I kicked at the sludge of fallen leaves with my wellies. At last I understood what magic brought my father here.