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Jon Doyle on Ruby Cowling
At Review 31, Jon Doyle reads Ruby Cowling’s short story collection This Paradise and tries to put his finger on Cowling’s aesthetic tendencies:
With its hyperreal feel, ‘Biophile’ is indicative of Cowling’s style, presenting worlds uncomfortably familiar if not quite our own. Some stories perform the telescoping from normal to strange within only a few pages, like ‘Eliminate Toxins and Increase Blood Flow’ which starts with a kind of sitcom irreverence and grows abruptly horrifying before settling back into a near-realistic groove. The climate breakdown of the title story feels speculative but only in a temporary sense, a snapshot of some inevitable point in the not-so-distant future brought forward in warning. Taking the bizarre cruelty of austerity and cranking the dial a few more notches, ‘Flamingo Land’ performs a similar trick, presenting a world governed by a kind of ideological penance — where suffering is required for health and prosperity. Marrying the twin obsessions of public wellness and finances, families are given benefits according to their own physical condition, the money they receive inversely correlated to their collective BMI. Cue crash diets, self-starvation, voluntary organ removal. Here, self-worth is governed by state-captured data, the recorded versions of ourselves as we appear on government records.