Book Review: Time, an anthology by Lazy Gramophone (ed. Sam Rawlings)

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An ambitious collection of short fiction, poetry and art, Lazy Gramophone’s Time dresses up genre-bending experimentalism in cinemascope, projecting it backwards and upside-down. Framed as a statement of artistic intent rather than a mere compilation, the collective’s sprawling anthology features thirty-two written pieces alongside fifty-eight works of art, each intersecting a central storyline about the passage of time from childhood through old age. Though sometimes uneven and encumbered by creeping sense of insider-ness — a love-letter from the indie literati to themselves — at its best, Time is a bold multimedia enigma, unafraid to take risks, and almost always compelling.

“So the squawkings of the radio hate-men and the occasional spittings upon us in the denizen-dark streets didn’t surprise or worry a hair on my head, nor fist attacks of drunken, broken men in the night… When the church-men turned their spittle-flecked fury on my church, I was delighted. Progress.” Tom Hirons.

The anthology’s opening act, Tom Hiron’s atmospheric “The Scrimstone Circus Gospel”, is among its strongest entries. Turning a wide-angle lens on temporality, the individual and the collective, Hiron’s vigorous prose evokes a carnival nightmare as an unnamed narrator relates his life story. On the death of his father, a hustling sailor, the narrator founds a circus, which he employs as a pulpit to preach the primacy of the self over God. After a religious mob burns down his operation, and following a period of pseudo-mystic rumination, he arrives at the notion that the relationship between time and self is the only ineffable, perfect, truth. Hiron’s mock-epic sensibility and thematic conceit are supported by Rima Staines’ illustrations, which serve as equally evocative representations of the story’s central themes.

Hiron’s contribution serves as Time’s Central Story — the narrative trunk from which the others branch out to explore childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. Each story and poem functions as an independent entry that coalesces around the collection’s thematic concern.

Inua Ellams’ poem “Macaulay, My Nephew and Me” is one of the childhood section’s most effective efforts, with reminiscence of the past, reflection on the present, and thoughtful consideration of the future intertwining around a memory of watching Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. Highlights from the adolescent-adulthood chapter include Laura Dockrill’s “A Very Very Very Long Spiral”, a touching and personal portrait of the uncertainties and anxieties faced in youth approaching adulthood, and Jodie Daber’s “Peter”, which chronicles the humdrum routine of a working stiff and proposes a novel exit strategy. Standouts in old age, Adam Green’s “Turbulence, Then Ash” and Claire Fletcher’s “The Dash In-Between” examine the idea of memory and time, with Green’s speaker sighing “I am lying on my sofa waiting / for these thoughts to lose their force” and Fletcher’s narrator recounting her grandfather’s final days.

“I say awful things to you / I want to hit you so hard I want your blood on the carpet / I want to wrestle you / Until I’m waving a white flag / Sad and fat tongued.” Laura Dockrill.

A common complaint about collaborative literary projects of Time’s scope is that they tend to be insular in outlook, with the intended audience limited to the literary community itself rather than a broader reading public. Lazy Gramophone must be commended here for assembling in Time an anthology that at least attempts to marry shrewd accessibility with artsy conceptual considerations. Though there are a few misses tucked in among the hits, Time is nevertheless an impressive and worthwhile collection.

“His frail hands worked as he stopped. I looked at the bed and saw that placed all over its surface were piles of meticulously folded clothes. As I watched from the doorway he took a jumper from one neat pile and spread it flat in an empty space on the bed.” Claire Fletcher.

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