Dickson Telfer’s second collection of short stories, Refrigerator Cake, perfectly captures the sometimes quirky, often hilarious, surprisingly dangerous, and frequently poignant experience of living in Central Scotland. From the one page joke describing the weather of the region to the nostalgic feel of “A Breakfast Mess” ’sbickering flatmates,Telfer has the uncanny knack of capturing the bizarreness and joy of modern life, coupled with the comforting memory of the past, often with an underlying sensation of unease. It’s a skilful contradiction which serves him well.
In the region that encompasses Alloa, Stirling, Falkirk et al, Telfer may be the closest thing we have to a legitimate urban bard. Living between the giant monoliths of Edinburgh and Glasgow does lend itself to a unique, sometimes fractured identity. Some of the most important moments in Scottish history took place in and around Stirling and Falkirk, yet in the modern day the spotlight is on the two major cities, almost as if nothing else matters. It is that voice, that sensation of being adrift, or stuck between something untenable and forgotten, and yet still aspiring to be something more, that Telfer offers.
The dialogue and inflections are easily recognisable to those from the region, but not to such an extent that they would alienate outside readers. There is definitely a universal audience for this collection. The characters and situations remind us of people we know, and possibly have been ourselves at some point in our lives. In many regards, the collection reminds of Kevin Barry’s Dark lies the island, with a similar ability to convey so much with little verbosity. Telfer speaks plain, yet imparts a multitude of emotions.
The thing is, Dickson, we need to talk.
That’s right, “Sinkho”.
In a collection with some entries only encompassing two pages, yet still excellent in its brevity and execution, at page 128 just after the frenetic pace of “Ella 21:18”and before “Some Tiffin” the reader is treated to “Sinkho”.
Yes, I get the joke, the reader is sinking and sliding deeper into the abyss of the page, but two blank pages and a title serving as a punch line, which is not universally understood simply makes me wonder what could have gone there instead? Another evocative short poem like “I love your Heart” or the textual experimentation of “Run”? Perhaps we could even have been treated to something similar to the beautifully heart breaking “Time to Begin,” which stands out as the highlight of the collection. It is a quiet simple tale of grief; not the type expected at a funeral, but grief of a rather more sinister kind. It demonstrates Telfer’s skill at turning an entire story on its head with just a carefully crafted sentence. Lines such as “She lifts up her blouse and examines her cracked ribs and bruised torso, still aching from Carlie’s hug. Underneath her bra she can still feel the pain of his bite.” serve to wrong foot the reader several times before the final reveal.
Refrigerator Cake has an added bonus; it contains illustrations from Amy Brownlee, a current student on the Illustration course at Dundee’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. The combination of Brownlee’s art and Telfer’s writing is a happy one and serves to enhance the reading experience. The drawing of the two boys at the end of “Secret Dens” brought a smile to my face; I had been that boy, as many others have, waiting for their friend to finish with the game console controller to take their own shot. As an Illustrator, Brownlee is one to watch and a full length Graphic novel from the pair would not go amiss, would be positively anticipated in fact.
Refrigerator cake is an excellent collection with only one forgivable misstep.
Seeing, as the non-blank pages are excellent, I will let it slide.
This collection is highly recommended.
David M Graham