Postcard Stories 2
by Jan Carson | Emma Press | 80pp | £8.99 pb | 9781912915583
review by Liz Maguire
It is only fitting that Postcard Stories 2 (the Emma Press, 2020) by Jan Carson came to the house through the trusted sanctity of the An Post van. In recent months many have rediscovered the simple pleasure of receiving a piece of post. Jan Carson, author of Postcard Stories 2, is a Belfast-based community arts facilitator, novelist and short-story writer. Carson might also be one of the original contemporary proselytisers for the merits of sending and receiving post in a pre-COVID-19 world. Carson’s Postcard Stories 2 is the welcome continuation of her Postcard Stories (the Emma Press, 2017). That project, which began in 2015 and has continued since, was one where Carson wrote and sent postcard-length short stories to friends around the world.
Carson’s micro-fiction is a delight. In Postcard Stories 2 we are introduced to some 58 of Carson’s original 2015 stories in addition to more recent missives. Edited chronologically, the stories are numbered, titled with their location of inspiration and dated. The recipient’s name is included below the title, lending an endearing authenticity. Spotted throughout the slim volume are tasteful illustrations by the talented Benjamin Philips—as in the first collection—grey- and black-washed to bring Carson’s vivid worlds to life. Philips’s illustrations strengthen the nuance and character Carson presents in her brief yet poignant prose. With five years of material to choose from, Postcard Stories 2 is a well-presented selection by skilled editors of Carson’s brilliant way with words. Like sweets from a tin, these stories can be digested one at a time or all together as pure indulgence. This addition to the Postcard Stories collection is a welcome treat.
Between the two Postcard collections, Carson published her second magical-realism novel, The Fire Starters (Doubleday, 2019), and was awarded the 2019 European Union Prize for Literature. This newest collection of Carson’s micro-fiction comes from that magical realist background. Some of the stories that stand out from Postcard Stories 2 are those that deliver frozen moments of prose like ‘Story 13. Ulster Hall’ in which a man laminates his wife in her wedding dress but becomes disappointed that there are downsides to this decision. Philips has illustrated a full-length image of the wife in question, suspended in the ‘laminating sheets [which] had cost the man an absolute fortune’ (16). Carson’s talent for fiction that dances between the absurd and reasonable is never better encapsulated than in ‘Story 20’, also from Carson’s time at Ulster Hall, Belfast—we learn that ‘Once a month, on a Friday, David Bowie takes a day off and is a normal person’ (24). Or in ‘Story 9. Brighton’ Carson has the renowned Frida Khalo return from the dead and not only witness but purchase from a shop-girl a souvenir amidst all the ‘candles, socks, ballpoint pens, and shot glasses, all decorated with a portrait of her [Frida Khalo] face’ (10). It is clear why Carson continues to receive justified acclaim for her writing. It breathes differently on the page than anything else you’ve read recently. It holds pauses with deliberate, honed skill. It makes reading a pleasure.
Most recently, during her COVID-19 lockdown, Carson used her unique hybrid background as a writer and community arts facilitator to link younger people with seniors in their community. According to a 2020 interview with The Belfast Telegraph, Carson solicited decorated postcards from 100 children, on which she wrote stories to be sent to senior citizens. Could readers be treated to a Postcard Stories COVID-19 edition? One can hope!
Jan Carson is the 2019 winner of the European Prize for Literature. Carson is based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Her most recent novel The Fire Starters (Doubleday Ireland, 2019) was preceded by Postcard Stories (the Emma Press, 2017). In 2018 Carson became the Irish Writers Centre’s inaugural Roaming Writer-in-Residence, where she travelled by rail across Ireland and carried on the Postcard Stories project. Carson’s first short-story collection Children’s Children (Liberties Press, 2016) was preceded by her acclaimed first novel Malcolm Orange Disappears (Liberties Press, 2014). Her work is included in anthologies such as The Glass Shore: short stories by women writers of Northern Ireland (New Island, 2016). Carson is an experienced creative writing workshop leader—adapting and excelling in the age of Zoom—and superfan of the BBC program Casualty. Learn more by following her on Twitter @JanCarson7280. Postcard Stories 2 is available from the Emma Press (@TheEmmaPress).
Liz Maguire is an American reading her way through her adopted home of Ireland. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Liz has lived in Dublin on and off for several years and enjoys the culture, community and craic. @thelizmaguire