Short Story Review – Lizzie Nunnery – Moving to the Sticks

He was possessed of a young soul. He knew that about himself.

Some people should never get old.  It’s not for them, it’s not right.  After a certain time, they flounder, become less useful, flutter in the wind.  What to do?  There’s no real answer, but the question is so much worse when you’ve experienced fame in your youth.  Best to die young – better to be a legendary Kurt Cobain than a middle-aged Eddie Vedder.

Or maybe not.  Eddie Vedder seems to be doing alright.  He’s created a niche for himself, and he owns it.  Pearl Jam are supremely themselves, and that seems to be working out for him and for them.

In Lizzie Nunnery’s short story, Moving to the Sticks, the protagonist, Cruickshank, has not find a niche, and life isn’t working out for him.  He’s old, grey, tired, used up like a worn brake-pad, scratched up like a discarded CD-ROM (remember them?).

He has his resentments, oh yes.  Filled with black tea and nicotine, tired from hardly any sleep, he thinks:

As soon as he was out the door and over the centuries-old cobbles, who was to say he hadn’t strolled out of a townhouse worth half a million? Who was to say he didn’t have some chrome and leather rented pad?

But it hasn’t worked out like that for him.  Instead he’s washed up, forgotten, miserable.

Nunnery conveys this concept well.  Cruickshank doesn’t, really, rage or wear his heart on his sleeve.  He may not love his life, but it’s his, and it fits him like a jacket worn for many years.  The sentences are clipped and short, but fibrous, connected, all of a piece, building momentum, creating a picture.  We learn much about him by what he isn’t saying – he’s old, and done, and life has passed him by, you know what?  Cigarettes are still good.  And booze.  And young women.

Ah, yes.  The young women.  One remembers him, in a club called The Jac.  He dislikes the people she’s with (they are young, you see), but is willing to listen to her (she’s young, you see).  She wants to talk to him, to thank him, to let him know how much his songs meant to her.  But –

She had her fingers on his sleeve now, quoting lyrics from some B-side he recorded in 1985. Like he bloody remembered. He concentrated on not staring at the wine. She was saying something about his ‘cultural contribution’. Jesus Christ.

But she’s young.  Yes.  Pretty, or pretty enough, but young, and, for all Cruickshank’s swagger, he really is world-weary, and over it all, and if he ever managed to catch himself a young lady he probably wouldn’t have a clue what to do with her.  He has the disappointed middle-aged man’s disdain for anyone a decade or more younger than him, which is to say – increasingly everyone.  Each year there’s more of them and less of him.

And then after a while she returns to her friends, and she tries to explain who he is, and perhaps she’s embarrassed or maybe not, but soon she’s making fun, mimicking him when he was, like she is now, young and vibrant.  And it hurts

Cruickshank stopped short a few feet away, an extra suddenly in the wrong scene. 

And he knows he is being pathetic.

What to make of it all?  It’s a sad, grey story that isn’t written grey or sad, but not happy, either.  Wistful, perhaps, for time that has passed by.  Regretful, certainly.  But alive, too, energetic in certain aspects, and unwilling, yet, to give up.  Nunnery’s sentences curl around Cruickshank, they enliven him, reflecting his personality back to the reader with greater strength than his words or thoughts or deeds.

Some people need to die young so they can avoid the embarrassment of being their older self looking back.  But that never really solves anything, except of course you are dead.  Cruickshank doesn’t want it, not really, though if it had happened all the way back then, well – okay.  But it didn’t, and so he’ll drink and walk and grumble about the ignorance of youth and the truth of his own early artistic strengths.  But he knows that even this, too, is performative, and that there’s a niceness to playing a role, even if it is that of the ogre.

Moving to the Sticks is a short story by British writer Lizzie Nunnery.  You can read the story online at Minor Literatures.

Author Lizzie Nunnery
Title Moving to the Sticks
Nationality British
Publisher Minor Literatures

Please visit the Short Story Reviews page to see all of the available reviews.

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