You might want to read the Joe Stretch interview before reading this – click here
The excerpt below is a key moment where central character Justin thinks of the ultimate plan to give sense to his boredom. This sets the direction for the novel as it works to its awful conclusion.
Another key character is the brooding post-industrial city of Manchester. Stretch name-checks places in a way not seen since the Smiths – this scene is set in Pizza Express on South King Street. The Green Quarter, the Malmaison, Fallowfield, Rusholme all get the treatment. He says, “Manchester is where I live. I walk the city and Manchester is the stage. It was instinct.”
The scene below shows off the verve of the writing style, and the subtle and not so subtle direction of the book. If nothing else Joe Stretch offers a fresh and distinctive voice. This boy can really write.
BACK DOWN SOUTH King Street to the restaurant where Justin is watching his mother foreplaying with her tuna Niçoise. The salad’s loving it, the leaves writhe in their dressing and, of course, all olives adore a little middle-aged sex. Justin is wondering whether inheriting sixty thousand pounds is enough. Surely, he thinks, with sixty grand I’ll never have to see her again, she can fuck off to Greece and shag a schoolboy. I’m free, he guesses, free to find new ways of loving.
He’s watching the space where his mother’s left arm meets with her left shoulder. He’s watching the way the excess fat on both body parts meets; he imagines this area of skin is sticky to the touch.
‘Your father wasn’t a rich man Justin, and I’m barely taking any for myself’
Justin nods. He’s wondering what his mother’s body was like before she met him, before she gave birth to him. He feels that her large bosoms have always been dependant on a degree of obesity. He imagines their size fluctuating in accordance with her varying weight. He imagines this process sped up. Bigger then smaller. Bigger then smaller. Could you plot a graph that showed moments of good fortune and happiness coincided with periods when she was a good weight, when her breasts were firm and more taut, still large but not droopy? He imagines the graph and tries to imagine his mother’s current misery.
‘Have you any idea how you’ll spend the money?’
‘Well,’ Justin begins, quickly deciding that sixty grand is enough and that’ll he’ll never have to see his mother again. ‘I was thinking of conducting an experiment.’
Diane’s eyebrows arch into something like an interested expression.
‘Yeh, mum, you see, I’ve been shagging very similar girls recently. So similar, in fact, that I can no longer tell one from the other. And, in truth I doubt they can distinguish me from other boys either.’
A paper napkin begins to dance in Diane’s hand, nervously waltzing with her fingers. She sighs at her tuna salad; the sex is over, her son having interrupted.
‘So what I thought,’ Justin continues, ‘was that I could do an experiment.’ He gulps the remainder of another White Russian leaving a milky residue across his top lip.
His mother’s eyes begin to quiver. Justin rises and leans forwards till his face is only thin air from her own: ‘Mum.’ He says, slowly and quietly, ‘I’m going to save us all. I’m going to find brand-new ways of having sex’
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