Review: Morgan Bell's 'Laissez Faire'

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From fairytales to moments of pathos, from science fictions to parables, Morgan Bell’s Laissez Faire is similar to her earlier work Sniggerless Boundulations in that it collects weird and disorientating vignettes and microfictions, but feels more developed. Bell’s voice retains her witty absurdism, but it is complemented by a greater confidence that allows more depth of situation and character. With ‘The Glass Of Water’ a girl is navigating unfamiliar rules and craves ‘the family vibe, it didn’t matter whose family.’ Over and over, Bell places us into the heads of complex people robbed of belonging and purpose or merely appalled by the world: in ‘No Small Thing’ a woman loses her love for a man after learning how he ‘euthanized’ his pets and in ‘Juniper Bean’ another is literally torn by her opposing desires for the familiar and adventurous personified as a squid and pelican, ‘“Well girlie?” goaded the squid. “Your loyalty to kin and convention, or a whole heap of flapping around and some undefined potential to create.” “Do you wish to dwell or soar?” asked the pelican. “It’s a game of chance either way.”’ As the title Laissez Faire suggests, the interconnecting theme is that quite anything goes—anything can happen to anyone and the rules and parameters that help us make sense of existence are merely effective but restrictive illusions.

Some stories are fantastical, others painfully restrained. ‘Sharpening The Knives’ is a domestic that promises a violence that never arrives: ‘A playful “I’m going to kill you” had, over the years, cemented itself into “if you don’t shut the fuck up I’m going to stab you to death with a knife.” That is the nature of long monotonous co-dependencies, the dynamic gets toxic, and then someone gets their throat slit.’ Whereas ‘The Lost Art of Transportation’ is a cynical space opera about the possibilities of human advancement, ‘The first fleet included power hungry media magnates, energy moguls, metallurgists and hydro-power engineers. We study it now as a historical mistake, allowing private monetary interests to impact upon strategic planning. But I had no idea these people had veered so far from the path as to not ensure the art of transportation, our greatest scientific achievement, the thing that keeps people happy and healthy, would be lost under a pile of boxes in the corner.’ What makes a book that includes both ‘Sharpening The Knives’ and ‘The Lost Art of Transportation’ coherent is a shared ethos, a suspicion against the placating comforts of the mundane as and essential dishonesty of the everyday. This is what makes Laissez Faire so unsettling and so worthwhile reading. It’s a series of concentrated and focussed interrogations of the weirdness behind the expected.

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Friday, 14 December 2018

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