Wednesday, June 6, 2007

If You Liked School, You'll Love Work (Short Stories Vol. 4)

Irvine Welsh is probably best-known for his novel, Trainspotting. As with that book, the true enjoyment in his latest is the clever characterization and cultural immersion on offer. The strange situations and people encountered in If You Liked School, You'll Love Work are masterfully sketched, right down to the intentional misspelling of words to convey an accent; the Midwesterners say 'nat', instead of 'not'; the English bar owner calls women 'gels'. It's touches like these that help to entrench the reader into the body and geography of the characters. Welsh is intricate but never overwrought; there are no wasted words, no descriptions that feel like padding.

Never one to shy away from sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll, Welsh takes aim at the people obsessed with all three (and other vices). The characters on display in this collection are creatures of habit and environment; a common thread being the myopia of self-interest that leads to misunderstandings both funny and terrible. A tripping trio unprepared for the desert, a 'Sex In The City' wannabe with WASP practically tattooed on her forehead, a bar-owning 'chubby chaser' convinced that his happiness is proportional to his control over the women in his life. There are no morality plays here, just people reaping what they sow.

Stereotype plays a big part in the stories as well. Preconceived notions and knee-jerk 'common knowledge' intrude on the ability of most of the characters to think clearly about the (admittedly strange) situations they find themselves in. Of course, without these limitations, the characters wouldn't be nearly as fun to read about. Happy, well-adjusted people are the province of some other writer not nearly as enjoyable to read.


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