Review: Difficult People by Catriona Wright

The first short story in Catriona Wright’s Difficult People doesn’t ease one in gently. We meet the first character, a failed academic, as she struggles with her new job working as a content moderator for a social media website. The vile images she sees and deletes on a daily basis disrupt her life and psyche, so she struggles with an unpleasant dilemma: should she recruit an old friend to do this merciless job in exchange for a reward?

This short story collection deals with an array of different personalities. Some of these characters are indeed difficult people, but most are ordinary people faced with difficult choices and situations. While these characters face very real and sometimes relatable struggles, their coping mechanisms are anything but normal. Whether a struggling stand-up comedian with fertility problems making jokes about abortion, or a teenager dabbling in witchcraft to deal with being abandoned by her father, Wright’s eccentric and downright weird characters all have compelling aspects. Despite their many (many) flaws, it’s easy to get attached as they pursue their goals and try to overcome different struggles ranging from addiction to depression and trauma. It was easy to judge some characters too quickly before their motives and pasts unraveled and their behaviour was justified. In other cases, judgement was well deserved, and the characters didn’t deserve any redemption.

As with any short story collection, some of the stories are hits and some are misses, but the majority are captivating. The world that the characters inhabit seems much like our own but sometimes features a dystopic twist, taking the reader by surprise.  In the story “The Copy Editors” a pair of unemployed, copy editors face off against a group of poets called Cerebral Experimentalists who have surgically “removed or damaged parts of their brains with the aim ‘2 disinterrupt the ruts of language and find nu wayz of no-ing ’” (100). The Cerebral Experimentalists are an affront to the titular twins who strive for perfection when it comes to writing. In the few stories where the plot is sometimes lacking, the characters are able to keep the reader’s interest nonetheless.

Difficult People is for all those who believe that any story can be saved with well-written characters and for those interested in discovering a multitude of personalities in a few short chapters. Catriona Wright promised difficult people, and she did not disappoint.

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