YA MUM is a rancid collection of short stories, moments and embarrassments from Britain’s cultural underbelly.
Whilst hordes of tourists take selfies in front of Tower Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral,
a used condom is strewn lifelessly on the chewing gum infested pavement. Another spent mattress materialises overnight by the communal bins of a slumbering high-rise apartment block and the skeleton of a bike without wheels cries out for its owner.
Writer and illustrator Ben Tallon invites you to take a naughty peek through the two-way mirror, onto all things dubious and dirty at the arse-end of British life.
21 short stories and flash fiction pieces inspired by 21 iconic British street finds; the mattress, beer can, glove on a fence, hub-cap etc. Ranging from the black comedy of people trying to adhere to social-distancing to the sadness of a tented homeless community under the arches, YA MUM is an intense journey through the lesser celebrated aspects of British culture.
This genre-bending collection is a thoughtfully crafted storytelling experiment that invites readers into the mind of someone with whom you would want to share a night of bottomless pints.
While reading, I found myself envious of the multiple ways Ben Tallon used language. His writing was conversational, and his observations were provocative much in the same way Joni Mitchells Big Yellow Taxi dealt with corporate greed's slaughter of natural resources. He wrote from the heart about the minutiae of life while showing how words transform seemingly mundane or otherwise grimy objects into treasures worthy of appreciation. There was all-seeing omniscience to his narrative essays, short stories, and poems. With an assailing use of alliteration, the writings also struck a lyrical cord. I was trepidatious at first, having read the synopsis. Worried that this collection would be yet another barrage of gross observations freckled with propaganda and conspiracy theory, but that is not the case at all, so please do not shy away from these pages if you are worried about being bombarded with a lewd lament of lies. Tallon is a genuine and vulnerable narrator.
His voice is a beer-stank whisper of fresh air. Each opening line is the bait dangling from an appetizing hook that reels readers in with ease. One of my faves was Drop Down Dead. This flash piece will assuredly slam a truth about life, death, and guilt down your throat in its simple subtlety. My spouse and I are still discussing the implications of the story today. He hints at norms in brief conversations by dosing readers with suggestions, and he urges the reader not to treat short stories as disposable. Tallon has curated a tiny pocket of well-seasoned stories that should marinate until their subtext permeates you as a permanent reminder that we are here to celebrate a world built from a collection of broken yet beautiful things.
My only qualm was the trajectory of the stories felt off balance. I was pumped with adrenaline at first before feeling as though I was coming down. If that was the intention, then he nailed it, but I would have preferred getting slapped in the face, then creep but up, as oppressed to being given all the goods right upfront. The found-object pieces would have been better served as supposed junk scattered throughout the collection, just as they litter various areas of town.
At least, that's what I got from it all, anyway. Do yourself a favor and get this, share this, and then revisit it when you want to take a walk down the guts of Britain's shadowy streets with a friend you never knew you wished you had.
I believe writers are the last bastions of humanity & have a responsibility to craft thoughtful narratives. For 20 years, my world has revolved around literature: selling, teaching, and writing. I am driven by books that inspire my creative endeavors. Reviews posted will be succinct and thoughtful.