Question: when is a collection of short stories not a collection of short stories? Answer: when it’s a novel. And when is a novel not a novel? When it’s a collection of short stories.
Nick Alexander’s 13:55 Eastern Standard Time is one of those books. It belongs to a genre in both literature and film for which, as far as I know, there is no name. It follows in the footsteps of Shortcuts, Magnolia and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s morbidly titled Death Trilogy, in that it weaves together a tapestry of multiple narratives and characters through chance meetings and meaningful confidences.
The overall effect is dazzling. First we meet Hua Juan, a pregnant girl testing iPods in a Chinese sweatshop. Then we meet Alice, the lonely New Yorker who buys one of said iPods. Then we meet Will, the guy behind her in the queue in the shop where she buys her iPod. You get the idea.
There is a risk with this genre that we are introduced to and whisked away from so many characters with such frequency, we might fail to fully engage with them. But Alexander is a master of minimalism, a literary Philip Glass if you like. He drives home the emotional content in single, and often devastatingly telling lines.
What I especially liked about 13:55… was its optimism, its hope. There is a tendency (see the aforementioned Death Trilogy) for this genre to be plagued with doom and gloom, but here, alongside the poignant and the tragic, we have characters and scenes that will have you smiling for days. I defy anyone not to fall in love with Will and Jude and their decision to live ‘the good life’, or to feel their lower lip tremble with sympathy at Alice’s plight in the Big Apple. The characters (or stories) are short, making this book an ideal commuter read, but each one leaves an indelible mark.
‘13:55 Eastern Standard Time’ is a novel, a collection of short stories, and a whole lot more besides.
Rob Dawson – GT Magazine
Following the success of his previous trilogy, 50 Reasons to Say Goodbye, Sottopassaggio and Good Thing, Bad Thing, Nick Alexander shows he’s here to stay with yet another literary treasure exploring the wonders of the human condition.
In a world where the Internet is omnipresent and communication links are global, it’s easy to forget that our lives can be connected by something greater than technology. In 13:55 EST, Alexander explores the mysterious connections that determine fate and the fragile threads that weave destinies together.
It’s these that make this book shine. The rebellious actions of a Chinese factory worker rescue a New York singleton from her solemn loneliness. This prompts the death of her brother, following a phone call that’s long overdue. Soon you’re back, full circle where you began, having traveled via sex, tragedy, love and desire.
Each story is shaped and influenced by those preceding it, and as one character’s emotions, thoughts and actions are played out, the ripples they create collide to form storms that sweep through the lives of others.
Alexander’s thought provoking prose describes familiar and obscure scenarios, but you’re left questioning the consequences of everyday life, and wondering how many people’s lives have been touched by your own existence.
With alluring encounters, fast paced drama and inspiring twists, 13:55 EST is a sublime triumph.
Wayne Clews – Attitude Magazine
The latest book from the author of 50 Reasons to Say Goodbye is part short story collection and part novel. In a series of vignettes and set-pieces, the reader is whisked around the world from China to New York, London and Berlin, each story leading on from the next and characters reappearing and disappearing as Alexander shows us, in this hi-tech digital age, just how one small action we make (a phone call, a chance remark, a quick fumble in the sack….) can have untold ramifications on the other side of the world. Demonstrating Alexander’s sheer range as a writer, 13:55 is a brave and tender book that explores the fault lines of human frailty and our all-consuming desire to be loved.
8th June 2007
When is a novel also a collection of short stories? When gay author Nick Alexander takes 20 characters from around the world and links their lives together in his new book, 13:55 Eastern Standard Time. A factory worker in China rebels against a foreman by damaging two iPods on her conveyor belt. In New York, Alice meets Will as they return the faulty iPods to the store. Touched by the meeting, Alice telephones her brother in Berlin as he crosses a busy bus lane. The chain of events ripples across the world and give erotic, heartbreaking and inspiring insights into the human condition. And this is the book’s underlying theme: that we are all connected by our common humanity. Brilliantly clever and well worth a read. 13:55 Eastern Standard Time is out now.
James Ledward – Gscene
If I’m honest titles like this often put me off – I think sci-fi, or experimental, and this novel is neither. It’s about the connections we all have with people all over the world, whether they are relatives, or the badly paid workers in China who construct our iPods. Nick writes assuredly and economically; he draws the outlines and leaves the reader to do the colouring-in – I like that. There aren’t great long descriptions of people or places, but there are some great dialogues, and I suspect Nick enjoyed putting words into his characters mouths.
Here’s the low down on Scientology:
“I don’t know. Is it bizarre? Scientology I mean? I’m not sure you should,
you know, diss someone else’s religion.”
“Oh come on. Scientology is awesomely bizarre. It was all invented by this
science fiction writer, Ron Hubbard? They believe that we’re all spirits
from outer space, called Thetans. And we, like, came here on a space ship
and were put into volcanoes. And when the volcanoes erupted the spirits flew
out and inhabited the humans.”
“Ok, so that’s bizarre…”
The blurb on the back cover says 13.55 EST is both a short story collection and a novel, and although some chapters seem at odds with the central themes and characters, and you do find yourself momentarily wondering what on earth this bit has to do with Alice – they all share an underlying philosophy – that we all have choices. It takes Alice the whole book to grasp this principle, because in this book pennies drop slowly but beautifully. A thought-provoking novel, highly recommended. Published by BIGfib Books at £8.99