‘I Told You I’d Buy You Anything You Wanted So You Asked for A Submarine Fleet’ by Owen Booth

The White Review Short Story Prize is one of the best out there right now. It’s where Influx got to know Eley Williams’ work initially (that and Ambit, and at live events) before we published Attrib. and Other Stories. It is also where one of the best short stories by a middle-aged northern man written this side of the 21st Century was published. Any story that starts with the subheading ‘The Triumph of Capitalism’ gets my attention, and Booth holds it all the way through. Written in his trademark first-person plural personal pronoun, or ‘we’ as I like to call it, ‘I Told You…’ zips along at a remarkable pace, and all over the globe. I love its ambition and tenacity, I love its humour and oddness. Booth has since worked on novels (for 4th Estate, no less) but I cannot wait for him to release his first short story collection.

From The White Review 2015, available online here

‘I Told You I’d Buy You Anything So You Asked For A Submarine Fleet’ by Owen Booth

This story won the White Review Prize in 2015, so you’ve probably read it, and if you haven’t, go away and do that (and read all Owen’s stories, because doing that is better than anything I could possibly say about any of them).

I was having a bit of an awful time when I read this one. I was struggling with my writing. I was reading, reading, reading, but I couldn’t write, and I’d become a bit of a recluse because some awful stuff had happened, and I wasn’t sure how to navigate it, or if writing was the way forward, or… what. Stories are always about the words, but they’re about when those words come to you, the exact time and place when read them. I read this story on a day when I was wondering how and if to be, and other than it being, very obviously, brilliant, in style, it hit me somewhere that I will always be thankful for.

It’s just brilliantly done, for starters. I love writing that is deceptively simple, has a voice that is consistently funny, without ever laughing at anybody, at least, not cruelly, or at least, not without making you laugh at yourself first. When you laugh, you’re laughing about things you know to be true about you, as well as others. I always admire writers who can do that, who make you laugh without holding back any punches when it comes to the absurdity of what human beings, and ultimately yourself, really are.

It’s also absurd, and moving, and has simple yet perfect descriptions like this: The air was so cold it smelt like iron.

Anyway, I read this story and I remembered writing could be new, and I wanted to read everything he’d written, and I remembered there were not only one way to read, or write. It’s a story that reminded me human beings are ridiculous and brilliant and utterly baffling and wonderful. Which is pretty much everything I want from a short story. It’s obvious why it won. And it’s not even his best story. And yes I am a bit jealous.

Published in The White Review, 2015, and available online here