Identity is the prevalent theme in Guy Ware’s debut collection of short stories, You Have 24 Hours to Love Us.Various characters struggle with the urge and pressure to re-define themselves according to either society’s notions of identity or their own. Throughout his collection, Ware examines how individuals define and differentiate themselves from others; from chicken farmers to suspected terrorists, every character has doubts about how they are perceived or who they really are. Perhaps the most effective aspect of You Have 24 Hours to Love Us is the placing of ordinary and relatable characters in extraordinary situations. Ware drops his characters into settings of which they have no prior awareness, thus provoking unexpected reactions. In turn, the reader must consider how they would react in a similar situation.
This debut collection presents a mix of different, and often bizarre, settings and situations, such as in “Isolation”, where an ordinary young woman is directed to a leper colony unaware that she is suffering from leprosy herself subsequently, she is forced to accept both her mortality and the rules of her new ‘home.’ In “Staying Put” Ware depicts an artist’s struggle to create a sculpture of a high-ranking government minister of the regime that caused his best friend to “disappear”. The sculptor attempts to discover strength within the minister, which he believes the government official must possess to commit such atrocities, in order to create a true likeness. “In Plain Sight” depicts Stan, an isolated chicken farmer who is alarmed to discover that a far away President is offended by his way of life, and what she perceives to be his lack of love for her and her country. It is this story which provides the title of Ware’s collection: the distant society claiming that Stan has only twenty-four hours to love them. However, he has no conception of what others think of him, or that a President believes his way of life to be ”incompatible with theirs” Ware tells his story, not through the President’s point of view, nor that of the militant protesters against Stan’s apparent rejection of them, but through Stan’s personal and intimate thoughts and details of his reclusive life, such as his daily routine of caring for his chickens and his feelings for the woman he loves.
This focus on the intimate and personal is present in all of Ware’s stories; it is through the small details of life that intimacy is created between the readers and Ware’s characters, but these small everyday moments are set against dystopian worlds and unusual backdrops. However, a lack of confidence or hesitancy in some of the stories leaves the reader with a sense that something is missing. Unsurprisingly, some of Ware’s stories are more memorable than others; certain aspects of his stories and characters might go unnoticed initially and need time to develop and sink in gradually days after reading. The true horror and tragedy of ‘Isolation’ slowly becomes apparent to the reader, hours or days after reading. . If You Have 24 Hours to Love Us is at times uneven Ware’s debut effort nevertheless lingers, gradually nudging readers to reconsider the forgotten and ordinary moments of everyday life, and to reflect on their own understanding of identity.