A woman who devours soil, a refuge who makes her way home, a woman whose gut emits a cacophonous racket; if you pick up Buffy Cram’s Radio Belly these are just some of the eccentric and intriguing characters you could spend some time with. Radio Belly is Cram’s incredibly impressive debut of short stories. Every story was just as good as the last and I absolutely loved this robust collection.
Radio Belly’s 9 imaginative stories cover a wide range of characters and narratives, which contain poignant observations of social life. Cram creates some of the most bizarre, yet completely believable and vivid characters I have read in some time. One of the most notable things about the book is Cram’s way with words. Her prose flows like a dream and conjures up vivid imagery that paints a stunning picture of her worlds.
Despite the brevity of her tales, Cram is able to translate complicated situations and people in a few pages of beautiful language, and successfully creates entire worlds for her readers to revel in. These bite-sized stories are so fantastic that I burned through each one, eager for more.
All of these stories are fantastic but a few stood out above the rest. My personal favourites included “Large Garbage”, “Drift”, and the title tale “Radio Belly”.
“Large Garbage” takes place in the not so distant future, where it seems investment brokers are the only ones rich enough to own anything. Former middle class intellectuals are now roaming vagrants who steal into the houses of the rich at night to host salons. The protagonist of the tale, who works at the Department of Revenue, leaves his comfortable yet unfulfilling lifestyle to join those roaming the land.
“Drift” is the story of Lena and her mother. Lena has always been obsessed with the past, particularly her own, which has always been something of a mystery. Her Eastern European mother, who escaped a war-ravaged country, refuses to turn her sights anywhere but the future. While out documenting bizarre museums for her job, Lena receives a call from her neighbour who tells her that her mother has disappeared. This sad, yet quirky story delves into Lena’s inability to let go of the past she never knew, and the rift it has formed between her and her mother.
In the tragic “Radio Belly”, a woman has to contend with her own internal symphony that seems to be emanating from her stomach. In this beautiful and frightening parable for depression, we see our protagonist develop a loud, exuberant personality to cover up the racket coming from within, which at times can be heard by those around her.
Each of these stories examines characters that are not quite satisfied with their life. They are desperate to find some way to change their situation, or to throw themselves into oblivion. The dissatisfaction of Cram’s protagonists is felt as keen as a blade, with Cram’s writing bringing the wreckage of their lives into sharp detail.
Despite, or perhaps more accurately, because of her characters strange quirks, they seem to leap off the page and stand before you fully formed in glorious living colour.
If you find yourself short on reading material, be sure to pick this up. Mark my words, this is a must read, get to your bookstores now.