GLR September-October 2022

we should try calling it vertigo. You know ... the sensation that catches you sometimes in dreams, when you think that the glass in some high window is about to give way, and you can just imagine how your arms are going to flail and your hands turn to claws in the air. Well, in fact, you’re going to discover that you’re flying.” But Bartlett is doing even more. While reading the collec tion, I began to pick up links between the stories. The boy of the first story is an off-stage character in the second, now a medical student the narrator tries to pick up. The second and third sto ries take place in the same apartment, but a century apart. In the 1891 story, the narrator creates an alibi about visiting a friend in Hackney Downs. In the next story, the civil partnership cere mony happens in Hackney Town Hall, and the narrator won ders why anyone would call an apartment building in the area “Downs,” given that there is “nothing rural at all.” In addition, the landlady in 1891 is the great-grandmother of one of the les bians in 2004. Attending the celebration are Roger and Todd, “just about the longest-running couple there”; the last story has Roger mourning Todd’s death. Finally, as the first story has an adult narrator looking back on his fifteen-year-old self, the col lection ends with its narrator thinking about another fifteen year-old boy, pointing to the future, wondering “what this brave new world that we’re all supposedly living in actually feels like, for someone his age.” There are odder continuities. Every story but one contains a quick mention of “a front door [that] is painted black all over” or “regulation black front doors” or “cracked black paint on the nineteen-thirties-looking front door.” It’s appropriate for a book whose story titles are addresses. But the doors take on additional meanings, as a door to new experience, or to exorcising an old one, or to finally having a home. As the disco queen says: “Is that what having a front door feels like, these days?” The ex ception is the story about the priest and the immigration case, where a painting depicts a house with “a heavy, black-painted door-frame—but no actual front door.” “In other words, there is nothing to keep you out. ... And I had such a sudden sense of home, looking into that darkness. Of a place of safety, and of refuge.” There are other echoes. Three stories feature a bare mattress in an empty room, sites of sex or potential sex. Oddest of all, perhaps, most of the stories contain the sequence of words “left right-left.” They can describe directions: “and then we go left, and right, and left.” Or: “I turned left, and then right, and then cut down left to Mare Street.” It also describes the movement of the banner of St. Michael “swaying left, and right, and left again.” It’s like a hidden rhythm buried in the stories. Bartlett doesn’t underline any of these links or echoes, and no story de pends on noticing them. They are simply there to be discovered. But once you do notice them, they create a kind of secret his tory, a connectedness across time and across individual lives. As with the repeated narrative arc, Bartlett uses them to create a universality underlying the varieties of experience. Even without these patterns, the stories themselves are deeply rewarding. I’m generally allergic to stories of triumph and happiness, but each of these melted my resistance. For all my appreciation of Bartlett’s technical virtuosity, what I admire most of all is his ability to move me, sometimes to tears, by these extraordinary stories of ordinary lives. September–October 2022


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