We all have our wants and needs, but huge numbers of us now seem to have a massive sense of entitlement, a belief that instant gratification is only our due – “I want it nooooow!” shrieked Veruca Salt, and so many people (especially if you go online) sound like spoilt little kids. But if it’s an Age of Entitlement, it’s also an age of gross inequality (aren’t they all?). We seek self-actualisation in an app while billions the world over are languishing at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, struggling for food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, any sense of security. In this country we luckily mostly have our basic needs met, and we generally don’t know true Want – famously paired by Dickens with Ignorance – but then again under the Tories the number of food banks in the country has exploded, the NHS is underfunded and crumbling, and inflation driven by the collapse of the pound since the Brexit vote may well be the beginning of a cost-of-living crisis…
Still, to turn to the fiction that fills this issue – as if the literary can ever be entirely apolitical (can it? Discuss) – it’s basic Creative Writing 101 advice: make sure your character wants something, even if it’s only a glass of water. Well, this month we have a set of short stories about characters who have wants and needs for rather more than that, and who – neatly happy endings being in short supply – mostly don’t get it. But what we want is so often not what we truly need…
The issue opens with teenagers – and who’s more hormonally conflicted about what they want and need than teenagers? – in a B&B, in Yasmina Floyer’s “Crush”. Tom White’s “Cruise” follows, a story set at sea, exploring the contrary wants–needs of stability or freedom, belonging or exploring…
“Birds in a Glass Cage”, by Caleb Azumah Nelson, weaves a complex story of a brief love affair in a desert dreamscape, Nandita Dutta’s “Hairfall” is a playful story of awkward sexual encounters and colourful hair, and “The Thermodynamics of Glass” , by Mary Lynn Reed, looks at the incompatible wants and needs of two young scientists in love.
The issue closes with ““Post-Mortem”, by Michael Handrick, a strange, genderless tale of modern love, complications of technology, constant desire for more or better … and ““Decantation”, by Jeremy Townley, in which the tale of one woman’s rise and fall is poetically reflected in the wines she imbibes.
This month we’re excited about Legion and the rise of Surreality TV. Legion, if you’ve not caught up with the show, is an FX Marvel Comics drama full of scenes taking place within illusions, or illusions nestled within illusions. The lead character David (Dan Stevens) is a powerful telekinetic (so we’re led to believe) who is rescued from a psychiatric hospital (so it appears…). Legion will leave you with existential doubts as it persistently asks the question “What is real?” Legion, as Surreality TV, is an art form apt for our times. Like Dada and Surrealist art, which developed as a counter to the horrors of the twentieth century, Legion, and other shows and movies like it, is all too suited to the world we live in – the days of fake news – when shared objective truth is under attack.
And of course our own Literary Weekender is this coming May Bank Holiday: we return with a special World Series event, London’s first literary festival exploring the literature and cultural landscapes of Ghana & Nigeria. Follow us on social media for event details.