‘Black Vodka’ by Deborah Levy

Levy presents the endemic identity crisis like no other writer. She is a whole-world writer, a time traveller, a pigeon-hole-defying storyteller with an intimidating intelligence and a greater interest in questions than answers. Her stories bristle with emotional complexity; they constantly surprise and exhilarate; they revel in the not-known and never-known. She is bold and fierce and I once cringingly held her hand and said nothing, in an empty room, before awkwardly reversing reverently away.

In this story, a successful advertising man with “an incredible facility to wade through human shame with no shoes on” takes his colleague’s girlfriend out to the Polish Club to conduct drinking research for a new vodka; only this being Levy, the man has a small hump on his back, the woman is an archaeologist, and the floor of the Club transforms into a primeval jungle when he drops his fork. They share a cab and kiss in the rain, but typical Levy, we are left without any sweeping denouement; perhaps the man, who always saw himself as lost property, remains an outsider “waiting to be claimed”.

There is a paragraph in this story that I have pinned to my desk as a kind of manifesto: ‘There is so much of the world to record and classify, it’s hard to know how to find a language for it. So I’m going to start exactly where I am now. Life is beautiful! Vodka is black! Pears are naked! Rain is horizontal! Moths are ghosts. Only some of this is true but you should know that this does not scare me as much as the promise of love.’

In Black Vodka (And Other Stories, 2013)

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