The Cupboard by Charles Harris is a collection of seven unusual stories. That is what is stated on the cover so as I go through each story I will be looking at the “unusual” factor and rate each story accordingly.
Unusual rating = U + 1-10 (10 being the most unusual)
The Cupboard (U8) There is no end to this story. It is a realistic ending without being an ending. Our unnamed narrator is a film director who is not always employed. His upstairs neighbor, Frank, turned out to be a cameraman with a gift for lighting. When Director found a script about a magician that he thought worthy of production, he also found magic to be one of Frank’s talents. Frank helped correct a few errors in the script and Director went on to production but felt Frank’s talents as a cameraman weren’t sufficient to include him in the project. Frank didn’t actively complain but became increasingly quiet and didn’t visit Director’s apartment as much. The film was a success and Frank was invited to a party where he performed his most astonishing trick of all. It would affect others present in different ways in their futures. The story is unusual and so is the phrasing used to discuss some of Director’s observations. Describing his marital relationship with wife Rosie, Director noted: “She was attractive enough to find her own lover if she wanted to, and in her mid-thirties was still more than serviceable.” (loc 68-69). I found that a bit jarring. Such phrasing contributed to what made the story unusual for me.
The Cat (U9) There are things implied in this story and not later explained. Surgeon (unnamed) returns home to find her cat died. She really loved the cat but not so much that she could not return to the shelter and get a replacement. The replacement’s life span was shorter than the predecessor’s. Following accepted police procedure, suspect those closest, perhaps the husband did it. He had never loved or cared for the two cats in even the smallest way. She would get another cat. And she would take precautions. Did they work? The answer is one that makes this tale unusual.
Illegal (U8) There are possibly three identities here for one person. Which one is real? Any one of them has a nightmarish sense of unreality for the person who lives (or dreams) them. Although an unusual story, I can see it being a reality for people in a rather specific occupation.
Pauline (U10) I gave this the highest rating because it completely confused me. What’s in a name (Fido)?
Sunshine (U6) Every once in a while I read a story that defines a word, the story could own the word. For this story, the word is “ennui.”
As I Walked (U10++) This is the most unusual story of the collection. Here is a quote that appears near the beginning of the story. It illustrates the most “normal” part of the story. Everything after it is weird. “As I walked, bits fell off me. At first, only one a week, then more rapidly – a finger here, a toe there. Soon bits were dropping off all the time.” (loc 393-394). Probably best not read before a meal.
The Night Apple (U10+) This is a very pleasant story of old men, magic apples, and angels. People are rewarded for the good they do. It is unusual in a good way (as opposed to the one above).
After the seven stories, there is an excerpt from the author’s novel The Breaking of Liam Glass. I didn’t read the excerpt because these stories sold me on the writer’s style and talent so I downloaded the book. I will compare that novel to The Cupboard in a later review.