‘Work’ by Jo Lloyd

I was teaching an undergraduate creative writing class up at the University of South Wales last year and one of the students was building a collection of short stories all based around her experiences waiting tables in a bougee bistro pub somewhere in the south Wales valleys. I was reminded immediately of one of my favourite stories from one of my favourite writers. ‘Work’ sits rather awkwardly in Lloyd’s 2021 collection The Earth, Thy Great Exchequer, Ready Lies – awkwardly in an entirely convincing and satisfying way – in that it isn’t quite as elegiac and grittily magical as the stories around it. ‘Work’ is about one of those aimless figures at a point in their life when it looks like this is it, this is what life is going to look like, and the journey has turned into a destination. I am in awe of stories that take the truth at the core of every life – that it is both wonderous and boring – and makes the most of both of those things. Dorothy Edwards did the same for her peculiar parade of well-to-dos in their country houses and retreats, kicking stones and wondering about how nothing ever happens. The last line of ‘Work’ is a gut-punch (I won’t give it away) and a return to that which is found in Edwards, although this is about the modern working-class experience – or rather that new modern class of university-educated worker bees hobbled by debt and a narrowing middle. ‘Work’ is a quiet masterpiece about that ignored (apart from by Ken Loach, maybe) strata of society, home to the people who fall between the cracks.

Published in The Earth, Thy Great Exchequer, Ready Lies, Swift Press, 2021

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