Finally started on a series of four books that I've been eyeing for the longest time, but keep forgetting to take them out. They've been quietly sitting in the corner, neglected. Wasn't going to read all at one sitting, but I was going to read them one after the other, just to keep the pace.
Launched in 2009, written by 38 familiar and awesome British and Irish authors to raise funds for Oxfam, 'Ox-Tales' are an anthology of short stories neatly placed into four books loosely tied around themes of the four elements of Earth, Fire, Air and Water. These themes are intended to represent the four aspects of Oxfam's work. Ox-Tales are intended to also raise funds for Oxfam projects centred around: Earth - land rights and farming; Fire - campaigning for arms control; Air - combating climate change; and Water - safe water and sanitation. Each book carries a poem by Vikram Seth, and an afterword written by Oxfam detailing their work in the area.
Oxfam is most certainly an organization whose work I believe in, and support. I began with 'Ox-Tales - Fire'. Aside from these names featured on the cover, the other contributors are also listed on the back cover; those include Xiaolu Guo, Sebastian Faulks, Geoff Dyer, Ali Smith, William Sutcliffe.
'Fire' is still a compilation of short stories. While its theme is on campaigning for arms control, the stories aren't all violent. Some are chilling, bit reflective, and half are based in the urban modern landscape. However, all the stories seem to have the potential to be elaborated on, to perhaps be continued longer. In fact, the first story of 'The Island' by Mark Haddon made me pause in the reading. I don't like that story, and while it's a story of a silly idealistic princess and her expected end set in the ancient times, it made me wonder if the rest of the stories are similar. Thankfully, they aren't.
My favorite story in the book would be William Sutcliffe's 'Sandcastles: A Negotiation'. It's darkly hilarious, pathetic and painful, playing upon gender stereotypes and urban myths. But those make the story work. A story among plenty of urban stories. Of a father, Phil, who lost his elder son Ben, seemingly kidnapped by a neighbor when he fell asleep with the younger daughter, Sophie, through a chain of events that happened when the wife Joanna went out for an hour.
Phil stared at her, frozen, rooted to the spot. The sandcastles were still there. More of them than before. He knew the woman. They'd spoken to her, several times. They'd eaten a meal with her. She was fine. There was nothing weird about her.
'ARE YOU JUST GOING TO STAND THERE?' shouted Joanna.
'No. No,' said Phil. He forced his legs into action, and set off down the beach, in the opposite direction to Joanna. The sand was scorching underfoot. Phil began to wonder if this day was going to be the dividing line between one life, a happy life and another kind of existence altogether.