Wednesday, February 28, 2001

Hi-fi short delights

Posted By on Wed, Feb 28, 2001 at 12:00 AM

In the introduction to Speaking With the Angel, editor Nick Hornby wrote parenthetically, “I’ve pinched the title from Ron Sexsmith, whose first album contains a song of that name which seems to me to be heart-meltingly relevant.”

Relevant to the stories contained in the book? Not really. What makes Hornby’s heart melt is the fact that proceeds from sale of the book will benefit children with autism. (His own son can be counted among them.)

But pay no attention to that cause behind the curtain, the short fiction that falls under the title Speaking With the Angel is the real deal. It’s a grand chorus of “young” and talented (mostly British) writers pressing their tales of mortality, judgment and isolation into stranger, more moving harmonies than any solitary melody could offer.

Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones’s Diary) chimes in with her darkly amusing “Luckybitch” narrated in first-person huffs and puffs by an elderly lady pinned down on her bathroom floor after a stroke. It’s as edgy as its title, but not quite as daunting as “Catholic Guilt (You Know You Love It)” by Irvine Welsh, a short flight of imagination that inspires the questions: Do gay bashers go to heaven? And, if God speaks American English, will He understand a word they are saying?

Editor and contributor Hornby (author of About a Boy and High Fidelity) builds his “NippleJesus” around a controversial piece of art and its inevitable destruction. Kicking things into Salinger mode, actor Colin Firth offers “The Department of Nothing,” a short string of not-so-eventful moments in the life of a disconnected adolescent boy trying to survive on instinct in a shrouded and apathetic world.

The sensitive and often urgent writing in Speaking With the Angel lives up to its title, its cause and this reader’s expectations. Buying it may be an act of charity, but reading it is a delight.

E-mail Norene Cashen at


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