"The Red Man Turns to Green: An Assortment of Short Stories" is Dickson Telfer's debut collection of, as the subtitle implies, short stories. Or is it? Is it fair to this thought-provoking and ever innovative collection of snippets to describe them as short stories? Actually, that probably is a fair description, though it's equally fair to ask the question. What you find are thirty or so sections, some cast in the traditional mould of short stories, while others are shorter and sharper, almost like well worked jokes. And many of the stories combine elements that could arguably pass for poetry with their use and positioning of words.
What this boils down to is that Dickson Telfer's debut collection defies easy categorisation. Short story writers have never had anywhere to hide. There's no chance to develop a plot that carries readers through the chapters, turning page after page to find out what happens next in a story they've already invested considerably time in following; and no scope for careful development of characters that readers can enjoy a long term relationship with. The short story writer has to grab the reader's attention and deliver the story in a very intense and intensive way. It's a bit like comparing a really good plate of fish and chips from your favourite seaside restaurant with a demitasse of superb soup prepared by a Michelin starred chef. Both are in their own way excellent, but one has to be so much more focussed than the other.
Between the covers of this book we witness all manner of moments captured by the author. How should you respond to the loudmouth making an obscene telephone call on a crowded train? What should you do if pressed to speak at the funeral of a school "friend" you deeply disliked? Do the police really stop motorists to resolve bets between themselves? Why might you be "43 and in Asda"? Some stories appear capable of being taken at face value, while others reflect the distorting effects of personality or substance abuse on reality. There's nothing wrong with really good fish and chips, but Dickson Telfer's intensely concentrated tasters are fascinating and extremely entertaining.