Book Review

I’m Afraid That’s All We’ve Got Time For by Jen Calleja

great short stories

This is a collection of short stories released by Prototype in 2020.

Jen Calleja is a fictional writer as well as a translator, and I’ve read several of the works she’s translated over the past few years.

This is the first time I’ve encountered any of her – perhaps the wrong term – original writing. (I’m not using the term “original” there to imply this writing is unoriginal nor to imply that translation work is not without originality and creativity, obviously it is. I’m not going to go into philosophising on the nature of translations here. This is not the time nor the place and it’s not something I know much about. I just mean writing by Calleja that is not a translation. That’s what I meant. Sorry.)

This book contains around 13 or so pieces, ranging in length from around a couple of pages to around thirty. There is lots to do with writing and creativity, as well as gendered violence and sexism.

Some of these pieces are very realist in tone, some are magical realist, almost allegorical, for example ‘Divination’. This story is about a teenage girl with a growing infatuation for one of her teachers, and as the teacher prepares to begin taking advantage of that, the school is destroyed by a flash flood of giant proportions which deposits the girl in a tree with several talking animals who frankly discuss with her the realities and implications of the situation she had been naively unaware of before.

There is a piece, ‘Gross Cravings’, that is structured as a first person diary. This one is about a food journalist/chef who, in a moment of materialistic panic, starts dating an older (much wealthier) man during a pregnancy, and ends up leaving her dull teacher husband for the glamorous, affluent, Gaspar. (I enjoyed that story not having a pointed moral to it: Gaspar seemed to be genuinely kind and supportive to his new lover, so ‘Gross Cravings’ wasn’t a simple morality tale about the risks of moving from a poor but kind relationship into a cruel but moneyed one.)

There’s another, ‘The Amnesty’, that is structured as excerpts from email responses to a survey into sexism, set in an alternative present day where it is men who are the predominant victims of gender-based violence.

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There’s a pleasing amount of variety in here, these high concept / speculative narratives sit alongside more irl-type stories about, for example, visiting a hometown after a long time away.

A recurring theme, I suppose, is the importance (or limitations?) of a willingness to change ones identity and self in the pursuit of happiness and recognisable success.

Throughout, there is engaging and unexpected plotting, rich character building and strong use of imagery.

I often say here on TriumphoftheNow.com that story collections aren’t my favourite type of literature (a strong counter-example is Octavia E. Butler’s Bloodchild), but Jen Calleja’s I’m Afraid That’s All We’ve Got Time For is a great example of a form that even cynical scott manley hadley has to begrudgingly accept is sometimes worth reading.

Please recommend other short story collections that are good in the comments below.

Order I’m Afraid That’s All We’ve Got Time For from Prototype here

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