Today dear reader I am the first stop on the blog tour for How To Bring Him Back (Published Paperback – 8th October 2021) By Claire HM. Happy Publication Day! 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.
How To Bring Him Back
If I was going to cast a spell tonight, this night of a full arse moon as stark and crunchy as a ten-day crust of snow, I’d start by telling the earth to spin in the opposite direction. By what power? By the power of my pen. It’s 90s Birmingham and post-university, but Cait’s aspirations haven’t taken her far from her council estate beginnings. Living in a bedsit and working in a bar, she’s caught between two best friends: Stadd, who’s stable, funny, compatible as a friend, and her compulsive sexual attraction with Rik. Present day Cait picks up her pen, on her yearly writing retreat to the sea, and discovers she’s finally ready to conjure an absent Stadd with an apology based on the lessons she has learnt from her chaotic past.
About The Author
Claire HM is a fiction writer, poet and teacher based in (and writing about) her home city of Birmingham. In 2018 she had an essay published in the anthology, I Wrote it Anyway, about her experience of accessing university and the long journey of finding the confidence to write as a woman in her forties from a working-class background. Her work is now published in a growing number of literary publications, including Tears in the Fence, Magma, The Rialto, streetcake, Coven Journal and in Cape Magazine.
She most likes to write about identity within ‘othered’ perspectives, desire and consent, reclamation of femmes and sorceresses from Classical texts, and the politics and privilege of class and language. Most of all, she delights in exploring taboo subjects.
Claire channels her creativity through writing as an act of healing, and as an invitation for others to create the stories they need to access healing too
In this short story the reader is taken back to the 90’s in Birmingham where Cait is living in a bedsit and working in The Queen of Bohemia pub. She is lacking in aspirations since she left university and is struggling; not only financially, but physically and mentally. Caught in a love triangle between best friends Stadd and Rik she is constantly at conflict with her emotions. Cait feels safe and looked after when she’s with Stadd but there isn’t the heat like she has with Rik. Cait and Rik have a fire between them, she has a craving for him to look, touch and be next to her. Stadd has complicated things and she sees him as a best mate. To say it’s a bit of a mess would be an understatement dear reader. It’s complete chaos.
The narrative switches from 2018 to the 90’s. In 2018 Cait narrates in first person as she writes her apology to Stadd. In the 90’s the story continues in third person as the reader witnesses the events that unfold between Cait, Stadd and Rik. This was an interesting experience as the reader not only gets caught up in the chaos that unfolds but also gains a small insight into Cait’s mind. The change of narrative adds to the unstableness that Cait feels throughout. It brings a sense of a disjointed reality, watching from the outside, then being straight into the midst of all these feelings and thoughts.
Cait is a fascinatingly complex character to read in both the third and first person. In the 90’s we watch her spiral into a pit of despair as she fights her demons with drink and sex. In 2018 we begin to understand her a little better as her thoughts flow openly onto the page; writing has become a form of therapy for her. She allows her walls to very slowly fall away and we see her vulnerability as she talks about how she’s gained a relationship with food and her roots are darker than they should be. In the 90’s Cait drinks her worries away, spending most nights drunk and staggering to work the next morning hungover. She doesn’t eat and has a burning pain in her stomach. She sees herself as a sealed-up box marked ‘fragile: contents unknown’. Broken in such a way that she doesn’t think she can put herself back together, so she doesn’t attempt to. She makes bad choices and drowns her sorrows, falling farther and farther into a darkness she can’t seem to crawl out off.
Cait has an on/off relationship with Rik and ends up kissing Stadd one night. This evolves into a relationship, yet she is unsure of how she feels honestly towards him. Stadd is a good, stable, caring guy who looks out for Cait and doesn’t try to get rid of her in the mornings unlike Rik. Rik is the opposite and has a temper that often leads to bloody knuckles. Cait sees in Stadd a chance to leave Rik, to pull herself together and say goodbye to the chasing and lying. Cait notices how Stadd acts differently in front of Rik and knows he’s not the only one that does. Rik appears annoyed as he learns Cait are Stadd are together but tries to appear as if it doesn’t bother him. The setup between these three very different characters is tense. You can see that at any given moment Rik could explode, causing major damage to anyone nearby. The secrets and the lies build and create a friction that make you become nervous whenever all three are together. It’s a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off. The anticipation hooks you in and you can’t look away.
Cait talks about the power of the pen in 2018 as she writes to Stadd. She wants to cast a spell, to apologise. She feels bad for how she treated him all those years ago. She writes about how she feels like she missed a truth about him that would tell her something she needs to find out about herself. Cait has unfinished business and compares this to ghosts who still have haunting to do, calling herself a Dybbuk. Her unfinished business is to apologise to Stadd, but it means nothing without the whole story. When we learn the whole story we are left wondering if Cait will continue to make amends in her calmer way of life or will the chaos that seems to stalk her find its way back in? Can people really change?
I give How To Bring Him Back By Claire HM a Four out of Five paw rating.
Sex, drink and regret, you will be left desperately wanting more.
HM has succeeded in creating a gritty and grim atmosphere that is constantly drowning not only Cait in the 90’s, but also the reader in the present. You can’t escape the reality of the exposed rawness of life’s burdens that pull us down. The darkness we all contend with on a daily basis is always there, telling us we are no good and that we’re failures. But…how we choose to respond speaks louder than any words.
Don’t forget to follow the rest of the blog tour, dates below, enjoy!
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