Lauren Beukes loves dystopia, or has at least has spent a lot of time thinking about it. A number of stories in her latest collection, titled SLIPPING, examine dire futuristic scenarios, from hyper-commercialization of television to exploitative medical sciences to biotech advertising to air travel — all of them packing sufficient decibels of discomfiture, in sentences and scenes.
Yet what is impressive with the telling of each story in the collection is the earnestness that underlies the dense and layered prose that Beukes brings to bear on her depiction of a world in which most would loathe to live. After a bit of discomfort, one begins to expect it, to get familiar with it, to realize that this distress caused by uncomfortable imagination is necessary in preparing for the worst or preventing it. The stories also do more than discomfort, though they do that in excess.
The subject matter of the majority of the stories in the book, a noticeable focus on the future of technology invites imagination but no subscription to any particular continental political cause. So, those invested in the question of themes in contemporary African fiction will find a lot to love in Beukes’ relevant unconventionality. What the work avoids in identifiable marker to specific literary style and contemporary themes on the continent, it makes up for in inventive experimentations.
What cannot be taken away from this offering is a transparent commitment to storytelling in very different forms. There is a perennial conversation about the delineation, or otherwise, between fiction and nonfiction. What Beukes invites by publishing these two genres together in one book is to continue to stimulate that conversation. A journalist is a writer even when telling a personal, a reported, or an invented story. Sometimes, unless explicitly stated, the difference isn’t obvious, and sometimes doesn’t much matter.
For BOOKS LIVE, Lauren Smith enjoys the collection.
Lauren Beukes can be so cool and cutting it leaves you cold. Her uber-trendy style is signature, but SLIPPING shines when she eschews the snark for intimacy and heart. This collection showcases the range of her talent across 11 years of speculative and experimental fiction, intense relationship dramas and journalistic essays (in which you can see much of the inspiration for her stories). Beukes excels at writing body horror and unhappy endings. She shows readers the brutality in the way bodies are modified for the pleasure and profit of others (contrasted with power in revelling in your own body) and articulates what social media and reality TV are doing to us. Occasionally alien life appears, terrifying and incomprehensible, yet humans are always far worse in comparison. It’s funny and entertaining too, but perhaps best read when you want something to creep under your skin and connect.
As part of her The Great November Book Release Re-Boot, a blog series talking about November 2016 releases that may have been overshadowed by unfortunate political events, Heather Rose Jones reminds readers about the book.
I’ve listened to Lauren Beukes talk about her books on a number of podcasts. This collection–SLIPPING–looks like an excellent introduction to the range of her writing.
For more information about SLIPPING: STORIES, ESSAYS, & OTHER WRITING, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover art by Clara Bacou
Design by Elizabeth Story