London, early evening, any day. The warm black body lies on the cold black street.
Courttia Newland’s ‘Reversible’ begins with a sadly all too familiar scene. A crowd surrounds the body of a young, black man who has just been shot by a policeman. But ‘Reversible’ – as the title suggests – enacts its own revolutionary proposition: ‘The blood beneath the body slows to a trickle and stops. It makes a slow return inwards.’ Slowly and carefully, and with a methodical relentlessness and rigour, Newland turns back time and undoes this crime. Bullets leave the body, the young man rises, cars swerve away from the scene in reverse . . . ‘Reversible’ is both a daring and visionary story, and in itself an act of protest. There are of course other stories – novels – that reverse time to political ends: Philip K Dick’s 1967 civil rights movement novel Counter-Clock World, or Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis. ‘Reversible’ is a great story, and it’s an example of the way that short stories are sometimes exchanged between writers, behind the scenes. I saw ‘Reversible’ in its draft form pre-publication after I’d sent Courttia a copy of a short story of mine that looked at the issue of deaths in custody in a different way. Out of that exchange came a live event at the brilliant Housmans Bookshop in King’s Cross, London, but also a sense of solidarity that was important at a time when I was unsure about the direction that this particular story of mine was taking. It was reassuring to learn that another writer was writing about the same difficult subject from a different angle, doing so with the utmost conceptual rigour and depth of thought, and without dishonouring any victim. Quite an achievement.
First published in Sex And Death: Stories, edited by Sarah Hall & Peter Hobbs, Faber and Faber 2016. Collected in Best British Short Stories 2017, edited by Nicholas Royle, Salt 2017