'And some of those commandments! No other gods: end of the pop music and film industry. No killing: end of the armaments industry. No bearing false witness: end of politics and international diplomacy. No coveting your neighbour's cow or wife: end of capitalism and good healthy competition.' Hot Cross Son
With such a weaving of different forms and themes, another author might create an altogether horrendous garment; an ill-fitting, itchy-scratchy coat of many colours and dangling threads. Broken Symmetries however, although not quite a one-size-fits-all, is a collection of perfectly stitched, snug works of fiction, sewn using the most basic human emotions - hunger, lust, anger, fear, guilt… the last of which is to be found in abundance. Marrying guilt to religion to sin, Redwood uses unconscious memory, secrets, childhood mistakes, peer pressure etc as tools to bring the guilt to the fore, whether in the heart-wrenching Epiphany in the Sun, the science-fiction style of Going Back or Expiry Date with its dreaded countdown to buried truths, it's there, as retribution, punishment or revenge. It's there in the body of Christ or a mere imitation; it's there in the devil or his idle hands. It's there in the titles - The Burden of Sin, Sacrifice, The Road to Damascus, Sanctuary, The Rosary, The Crucifixion Conspiracy - and it's there between the lines.
'But even this was still not absolutely pure sin. It was contaminated with flecks of remorse, twinges of conscience, fleeting desires of reparation and expiation, wisps of prayer, and other impurities.' The Burden of Sin
Another theme that recurs in Redwood's fiction is that of metamorphosis which, if you were to psychoanalyse these pieces (probably not a good idea!), would probably be entwined with the guilt factor - change and repression… Jekyll and Hyde. From a simple tale of transformation into a cockatrice, to the biomedical uses of cloning, from transportation through TV, to women as library books waiting to be loaned…
'Watching her undress that night, he noticed more signs of decay. Where the gold had flaked off, bruised flesh was showing through, and her body hair was beginning to show under her armpits, and on the lower part of her belly. As she got into bed, he noticed a slight odour. For the first time it entered his mind that she might actually die.' Damaged
Or a straightforward mythological metamorphosis, such as in the brilliant and beautiful Circe's Choice:
'So I had only my hounds. When hunger pangs were not driving us wild, for the mariners learned to avoid our strait, when an autumn evening would lay itself around our cliffs and slowly, tantalizingly, draw back the veil and give us the gift of the stars shining over the Ausonian Sea, then, sometimes, we would know a moment of peace and instead of howling and snarling, the creatures that were now me would gaze at me with sad eyes full of questions, lick me and lay their heads on my unkissed breast.'
This is one of Redwood's most atmospheric stories, but there are others. Redwood is, for the most part, a satirical writer, but when he turns his mind to love, for instance, he can produce something quite rapturous and passionate. You may have to look hard for the love, but it is there, dark, and demented and demonic.
'Jeanne. Wild blonde hair that made you ache to catch it in your fingers, the great, solemn green eyes of her mother, freckles like daisies dotting the fields around the valley, child's lips hinting at a woman's heat. Jeanne.' Jeanne
If I were to scrunch up Redwood's fiction to make it fit into a little box, that box would be labelled 'absurd'. To me, absurdist fiction is a weaving of black humour and satirical horror, and Broken Symmetries is both of these. Admittedly some of these stories will threaten to make you lose reason, such as Keeping it in the Family, a Sadeian farce with a sci-fi twist that will leave your head spinning, but that's what happens when you let someone like Redwood loose with a pen. All in all this is a slippery set of stories whose images linger long after the story has ended and which might, quite possibly, leave you reeling.
'… in the best places they stuff Rover in a sack, and beat him with iron bars for fifteen minutes or so before finishing him off. Because the pain and fear of the dog sends adrenaline into the mashed-up body, giving it that extra piquant flavour to delight the palate of that creature 'made in the image of God'.' Bait