Perfect by Sally Emerson – review

Published by Quadrant Books

Publication date – 27 May 2022

Source – review copy

In these stories of the impossible, master of the domestic thriller Sally Emerson introduces the eerie into her keen-eyed portraits of everyday life. A clerk working in a public register office begins to receive death certificates dated in the future, but can she alter fate and save the victims? A woman unable to have children discovers a way of cloning her husband, but is their cloned son destined to repeat the mistakes of his father? A suburban mother is prescribed health supplements with rather amorous side-effects; can she resist their sway and keep her hands off her neighbours? And who exactly are the tempestuous and dangerous warring couple who seem to have been alive forever?

Cloned babies, mysterious death certificates, the ability to control the weather. These are all covered in this collection of short stories. The stories are linked by the impossible. It’s not possible that death certificates can appear, dated in the future, predicting the deaths of the people named on them. It’s impossible that a couple can appear today but be seen in relics of the past, from centuries earlier.

There is a sense of otherworldliness about the stories, a something you can’t quite put your finger on. There are some that are definitely creepy, such as Death Certificates, with others having a sense of foreboding that develops as the story progresses, as is the case with Perfect, the title story in which Portia clones her husband’s DNA to allow her the baby she desperately wants. What she can’t foresee is how her son’s life may echo his father’s. There are suggests of magic, as in Lust, when a woman develops unwelcome side effects from taking a cocktail of recommended supplements. The Couple looks at more religious and iconographical believes, at Alpha and Omega, at the eternal battle between good and evil.

There is a skill to writing a good short story. Brevity is required but story-telling and engaging the reader can’t be sacrificed. That brevity also makes it hard to review such a collection without spoiling any of the tales. Each of the stories in this collection is entertaining. As with most collections so will stand out more than others. For me my favourites were Death Certificates and The Couple. They are the ones which I still remember and linger after the final page has been turned.

An interesting, entertaining collection of short stories. I look forward to reading more from Sally Emerson in the future.

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