The Bug (Six Shorts, 5/6)
As we come to the fifth story in the Six Stories anthology, it may have become apparent that my enthusiasm for these short stories has traced a parabola. It peaked with Sarah Hall's “Evie,” and it now continues its downward motion with one that has a wobbly title: “Call It ‘The Bug’ Because I Have No Time to Think of a Better Title,” by Toby Litt.
Right off the bat, the title strikes me as overkill. There’s also the fact that the story is made up of a single paragraph. It is freckled with remarks packed inside parentheses: everything from short explanations (“in 2000”, “in London”) to adverbs tacked after a verb (“gradually, subtly,” “convincingly, gradually”) to metaliterary comments (this comes from the narrator directly: “Of course, this isn’t my usual reasoned view – but at the moment I cant, I just can’t”).
Please take note of sentence one, which pretty much sets the pace for the rest of the story: “If my mother weren’t dying of ovarian cancer, and I hadn’t come home to be around my father, I might have written a story something like part of the following (Choose Your Own Adventure, please): A young woman, Ela, travels by great glass elevator to one of the geostationary spaceports encircling the toxic Earth.” We hear snippets of the narrator’s mother, while we are also presented the half-formed sci-fi tale about Ela.
It’s not my cup of tea. I’d rather have the story about Ela, perhaps laced with descriptions so inexplicably grim to warrant suspicions about the reliability of the narrator. But that’s just my preference. If you like this kind of gurgling, free-for-all stories, you’ll probably enjoy “Call It ‘The Bug’ Because I Have No Time to Think of a Better Title.”