Joyriding Down Utopia Avenue – Simon French (Published 14th March 2021)
Readers of Simon French’s debut collection Joyriding Down Utopia Avenue are in a for a delightfully jolt-filled, dodgem-car ride. People search for thrills, only to find them deflating into disillusionment. Yet elsewhere there are tender, moving and funny encounters in suburbia. Turns and twists of perspective abound, surprising, often shocking and sometimes mystifying us. What we thought we had experienced shifts dramatically, and we need to re-think what we have witnessed.
Utopia Avenue is peopled with charismatic predators who have edgy, often collusive relationships with those they prey on. Home is invoked as a place of safety and retreat, though French also shows fun and tenderness can be found there (see ‘Together They Water Begonias’). But he is too clear-eyed not to see that home is where the hurt is, too. Loss and difference open up uncomfortable gaps, especially in the sexual and familial intimacies he portrays.
The ride may be occasionally bumpy but French has a firm grasp of his wheel. His forms are spare, pared down, and his sensuous descriptive skills and playful wit excite the ear. He has a beady eye for focussing on details that make his places and subjects become vividly present. Happiness may be rare, hard-won, but the verbal fun and psychological thoughtfulness on offer means that riding with French down Utopia Avenue is never dull and more than joyful.