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Four Last Things is a collection of short stories, a brilliant collection of short stories. There is nothing of the occasional here, nothing of the secondary, these short fictions rank not just with William Palmer’s own novels but with the best work in this medium over the last fifty years.
In the title story, the longest, Cornelius Marten, an ageing, forgotten, booze-sozzled author reviews his life in the company of a young researcher and his girlfriend. Updating the Christian Catechism for our secular age, he enumerates the four last things as being: First Love, Friendship, Betrayal and Death. He takes each of these as hooks upon which to hang reminisces of his past. He resurrects his first lover, his closest friend, his early poetry and his wartime job, in each case releasing memories of pain and betrayal and unsatisfactory conclusions.
The final story, Performance, Performance, is the shortest. To say it is based on the great jazz saxophonist Coleman Hawkins only allows this copywriter to show off. The name of the musician doesn’t matter, in a mere six pages a perfect distillation of the creative temperament is conjured. Not only should it appear in all Jazz anthologies, it should appear in all anthologies of short stories, it is fautless.
‘On the strength of his previous books, it was to be expected that Palmer would produce something exceptional in the realm of the short story. The depth and eloquence of this fine collection, however, might surprise even the most ardent admirers of his novels. He revels in character and language, in the gradual, intricate revelation of plot-lines and themes …’ Paul Sussman, Independent on Sunday
‘The strength of these robustly elliptical stories is that, in other hands, they might have been stretched into novels, even adequate novels but certainly not as haunting.’ Christopher Hawtree, Independent
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