Today dear readers I am reviewing Muscle and Mouth (Published 11th June 2021) By Louise Finnigan. A big thank you to the publishers Fly On The Wall Press for sending me a copy to read and review, always appreciated.
This short story is a part of The Fly on the Wall shorts season. Every two months for a year starting from February 26th 2021 they are publishing a short story with a social message to be found in each one. Find out more details here.
Muscle and Mouth
Jade is prepping an A-Level assignment, all her sights set on Durham University. She’s told she has to ‘prove herself’ and keep her away from the unsavoury types she calls her best friends. Yet Jade is reluctant to shun her corner of Manchester, where she finds the land rich, ‘dark with energy’.
About The Author
Louise Finnigan lives and writes in Manchester. Her work has been longlisted for The Mairtin Crawford Award and shortlisted for The Cambridge Short Story Prize. Last year, she was a finalist in The Manchester Fiction Prize. Her work has appeared, and is due to appear, in various anthologies and she has been published online with Storgy. Louise is interested in writing from the perspectives of working-class teenagers who are negotiating their identity in a world which requires them to change themselves if they are to ‘escape’. Her stories are set on council estates, in high-rise flats and failing schools and aim to present the complexity of situations which might be easily dismissed as non-literary. All settings are Mancunian or linked to the city in some way, and all characters are drawn with love.
In this short story the reader follows Jade, who is tasked with recording people speaking and writing an essay about it. She hopes to go to Durham University and this assignment could make or break that dream.
Jade interviews three young men aged between 20 to 25, Stephen, Mikey and Connor. She records them on tape at Stephen’s flat as they sit back and drink bottles of Hooch. They talk about their hometown and where they see themselves in the future. None of the men are in full time employment at the time of the interview but Stephen is applying to be trained as a joiner and Mikey has some part time work as a security guard. Finnigan creates a chilled, laid back atmosphere as the conversation begins to flow. When events took a surprising turn I was shocked. I didn’t see it coming and it completely caught me off guard. What seemed to be a relaxing night in with mates soon became a bloodbath complete with three missing teeth. It was a cleverly placed plot twist as it coincided with Finnigan’s message of how society view young men from an underclass background. Society expects nothing less from these men, assuming nothing good can happen in their company and they will soon end up in prison or dead. Like Jade the reader refuses to believe this as the evening starts off calmly. However when events take a turn for the worse you feel conflicted. You try to push past the association of crime and bad dealings that hang round these young men’s necks and look at the people they are.
This story focuses on the language of young men set against the most dodgy housing estate in Manchester, known for its stabbings and drug dealings. As Stephen says, the place is a shithole but he is proud to be from around there, it’s about the people. You see past the grime and dirt, the company you keep offers you a drink and you feel welcomed without question.
As the interview proceeds Mikey’s accent starts to get thicker as he’s starting to enjoy himself. This prompts Jade into thinking about how she will lose sounds when she goes to uni. She will speak different words and a more fitting vocabulary for her course. This was interesting to read and think about as often where we live impacts the way we speak. We will use local phrases out of habit and adapt to the sounds of the words used in hopes of fitting in. Jade loves the way the young men speak and how she does when with them but knows that it will soon become alien to her.
Finnigan captures the very essence of Manchester as she wanders through its streets. It’s a hidden gem, often viewed as bleak and depressing by it’s residents. They fail to see how rich the land is. The green and fertile, it’s all around but people don’t mention it. The young men mention this in the interview and talk about how people just see the massive estate and crime rate in the paper. Society stereotypes them and refuses to see anything but the negative. It’s a saddening fact that once your name becomes tarnished it becomes impossible to erase. This in turn influences how the young men start to see themselves, believing themselves to not be good for anything less than what is expected of them, which can also impact mood and lead to mental health issues. It’s a massive domino effect that will continue to happen until something or someone decides to change the rules.
I give Muscle and Mouth By Louise Finnigan a Four out of Five Paw rating.
Thought-provoking and intriguing this short story will question society’s views on the underdogs. You will be captivated by Finnigan’s imagery and shaken by the harsh realities of the world we live in.
I enjoyed reading the transcript of the conversation as Finnigan captures the Northern accent perfectly. It’s rich, raw and nudges you to think of your own hometown. This short story speaks strongly about where you are from and raises/answers questions about how society view our hometowns.
Hop hop wiggle wiggle