Title: The Road to Woop Woop, and Other Stories
Author: Eugen Bacon
Genre: Literary Fiction/Speculative/Short Stories
Release Date: 01/12/2020
Summary: Eugen Bacon’s work is cheeky with a fierce intelligence, in prose that’s resplendent, delicious, dark and evocative. NPR called her novel Claiming T-Mo ‘a confounding mysterious tour de force’. The Road to Woop Woop and Other Stories imbues the same lushness in a writerly language that is Bacon’s own. This peculiar hybrid of the untraditional, the extraordinary within, without and along the borders of normalcy will hypnotise and absorb the reader with tales that refuse to be labelled. The stories in this collection are dirges that cross genres in astounding ways. Over 20 provocative tales, with seven original to this collection, by an award-winning African Australian author.
Excerpt From The Road to Woop Woop:
Tumbling down the stretch, a confident glide, the 4WD is a beaut, over nineteen years old.
The argument is brand-new. Maps are convolutions, complicated like relationships. You scrunch the sheet, push it in the glovebox. You feel River’s displeasure, but you hate navigating, and right now you don’t care.
The wiper swishes to and fro, braves unseasonal rain. You and River maintain your silence.
Rain. More rain.
“When’s the next stop?” River tries. Sidewise glance, cautious smile. He is muscled, dark. Dreadlocks fall down high cheekbones to square shoulders. Eyes like black gold give him the rugged look of a mechanic.
“Does it matter?” you say.
You don’t respond. Turn your head, stare at a thin scratch on your window. The crack runs level with rolling landscape racing away with rain. Up in the sky, a billow of cloud like a white ghoul, dark-eyed and yawning into a scream.
A shoot of spray through River’s window brushes your cheek.
A glide of eye. “Hell’s the matter?” you say.
“You ask me-e. Something bothering you?”
He gives you a look.
Classic,you think. But you know that if you listen long enough, every argument is an empty road that attracts unfinished business. It’s an iceberg full of whimsy about fumaroles and geysers. It’s a corpse that spends eternity reliving apparitions of itself in the throes of death. Your fights are puffed-up trivia, championed to crusades. You fill up teabags with animus that pours into kettles of disarray, scalding as missiles. They leave you ashy and scattered—that’s what’s left of your lovemaking, or the paranoia of it, you wonder about that.
More silence, the cloud of your argument hangs above it. He shrugs. Rolls up his window. Still air swells in the car.
“Air con working?” you say.
He flexes long corduroyed legs that end in moccasins. Flicks on the air button—and the radio. The bars of a soulful number, a remix by some new artist, give way to an even darker track titled ‘Nameless.’ It’s about a high priest who wears skinny black jeans and thrums heavy metal to bring space demons into a church that’s dressed as a concert. And the torments join in evensong, chanting psalms and canticles until daybreak when the demons wisp back into thin air, fading with them thirteen souls of the faithful, an annual pact with the priest.
Rain pelts the roof and windows like a drum.
He hums. Your face is distant. You might well be strangers, tossed into a tight drive from Broome to Kununurra.
The lilt of his voice merges with the somber melody.
You turn your face upward. A drift of darkness, even with full day, is approaching from the skies. Now it’s half-light. You flip the sun visor down. Not for compulsion or vanity, nothing like an urge to peer at yourself in the mirror. Perhaps it’s to busy your hands, to distract yourself, keep from bedevilment—the kind that pulls out a quarrel. You steal a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. Deep, deep eyes. They gleam like a cat’s. The soft curtain of your fringe is softening, despite thickset brows like a man’s. You feel disconnected with yourself, with the trip, with River. You flip the sun visor up.
Now the world is all grim. River turns on the headlights, but visibility is still bad. A bolt of lightning. You both see the arms of a reaching tree that has appeared on the road, right there in your path. You squeal, throw your arms out. River swerves. A slam of brakes. A screech of tires. Boom!
The world stops in a swallowing blackness. Inside the hollow, your ears are ringing. The car, fully intact, is shooting out of the dark cloud in slow motion, picking up speed. It’s soaring along the road washed in a new aurora of lavender, turquoise and silver, then it’s all clear. A gentle sun breaks through fluffs of cloud no more engulfed in blackness. You level yourself with a hand on the dashboard, uncertain what exactly happened.
You look at River. His hands . . . wrist up . . . he has no hands. Nothing bloody as you’d expect from a man with severed wrists. Just empty space where the arms end.
But River’s unperturbed, his arms positioned as if he’s driving, even while nothing is touching the steering that’s moving itself, turning and leveling.
“Brought my shades?” he asks.
“Your hands,” you say.
“What about them?”
“Can’t you see?”
His glance is full of impatience.
You sink back to your seat, unable to understand it, unclear to tell him, as the driverless car races along in silence down the lone road.
Review: A little while ago, I read and reviewed The Invisible from the same publisher and was offered the chance to read this collection and jumped at it. As I do with all the short story collections I read, I will be discussing each story individually and then summing up my thoughts on the collection at the end of this review. The forward to this collection was written by Seb Doubinsky who wrote The Invisible which I loved, so I could wait to jump into these stories.
The Road to Woop Woop
This story obviously gives its name to the title and it was a strange, mind-bending story that took me a minute to grasp fully. It follows an unnamed protagonist and their relationship with the beautiful young man called River as they embark on a road trip, but the protagonist is questioning their connection and relationship with River. As the protagonist doubts River parts of him begin to disappear in quite gory fashion until only his eyes and a ghostly body remain. The story ends with the ghostly River embracing the protagonist as they realise, they feel a lot more and wondering whether River will return to his former self at the beginning of the story. The Road to Woop Woop started the collection off with a bang and I can’t wait to see what the rest has in store for me.
Swimming With Daddy
Swimming with Daddy actually made me tear up a little as it is about a girl reflecting on how her father taught her to swim, coached her even though he didn’t swim himself and nurtured the talent in her with stories. However, we soon learn that her father died and her mother joined him not long after and when her grief is at its strongest, she swims and her father is always there at her side, telling her stories and giving her advice when she needs it most.
A Nursery Rhyme
A Nursey Rhyme was another dark story that I really enjoyed as it follows Venus, her father Mage and her daughter, Dee. In the wake of the death of Dee’s babysitter, Cora, Venus’ father has come to offer his support and help but he seems to have trouble connecting with his granddaughter and keeps his distance from her. We see that Dee herself is quite strange and doesn’t see the world the same way as other people and we begin questioning why. By the time Mage confesses that Venus was kidnapped by a cult as a young teenager and was gone for months until her father hired a being to rescue his daughter from Lawless to get her back and she eventually fell in love with Lawless’ brother Triton who didn’t have the gift his brother did. However, Dee isn’t Triton’s daughter, and her father knows that she isn’t human and refuses to see her as anything more than a thing. In the end, Lawless comes to Venus in her dreams and in the wake of that moment, Dee kills her grandfather the same way she has done with others, but Venus won’t abandon her child and vows to protect her. I really liked the paranormal/demonic elements of this story especially the relationship between Venus and Lawless as even when she learns what he really is it doesn’t change her feelings about him and their daughter.
The One Who Sees
The One Who Sees was a really interesting story that you really had to think about to understand. For me I saw it as life through the eyes of young boy who sees a lot more than his parents believe and he attributes animal forms to people in order to express their personalities. His father is an antelope, his mother a lion and he is a leopard. As he prepares to enter a boarding school in the city he reflects on the things he loves about home and the things he saw in a way that is creative, unique and yet heart-breaking when you realise that it is the imagination of a child trying to cope with the harsh realities of life.
Beatitudes is another slightly dark story about a family. It starts with the love between a boy and girl, him ordinary while she is beautiful and that gradually turns into hate and anger when she begins to change into someone he doesn’t recognise. The girl, now woman is hateful towards her beautiful daughter, but the man endures until one night the woman transforms the pair of them into a siren and a toad who end up finding something in each that they didn’t get from her. The imagery in this story is outstanding as I feel it is a story about being brave and embracing your true self no matter what it might be and not bending to the pressures other people put upon you.
Snow Metal took a more sci-fi turn compared to the more fantastical stories we have seen so far as Torvill meets the woman called Snow Metal while working at the Enclave. She seems to be an android or something like an AI and he is tasked with decoded her memory but when he tries she fights back and manages to escape and he is told by something or someone to win her to their side, making me think that she might be an important part of a war or something like that taking place. I would have like a bit more context in this story as it did leave me a little confused, but it was interesting to read.
A Maji Maji Chronicle
A Maji Maji Chronicle was one of the more interesting stories in this collection in terms of its fantasy elements. It follows a father and son who are magicians and travel through time, the father is teaching his son the vital lessons he will need for when he becomes a true magician himself and they have entered the year 1905 AD. There they meet the Chief of a village who tells them that the neighbouring villages are being attacked and destroyed by the white men, but they have no way to fight back. The father, Zhorr gives them the ability to turn invisible at will despite the protests of his son, Pickle and they watch the consequences of this decision unfold. Slowly, the Chief morphs into the very thing he claimed to hate before seeing the error of his way. Zhorr takes them back to the moment before he gave them the gift so history plays out in the correct way before explaining to his son the lesson was for him to learn to not alter history unless he has a rule to prevent outcomes like the one they saw before they head back to their own time where Zhorr is going to die, leaving his will with his son.
A Good Ball
A Good Ball was the first story in this collection that I didn’t really understand and therefore I can’t really comment on it, but I did understand that it looks at humanity and what it means to be human in some sense.
A Case of Seeing
A Case of Seeing was one of my favourite stories so far as it follows, Detective Chief Inspector Lawfer McDaniel who has the gift of seeing things that have happened when she comes into contact with certain objects which is certainly useful when trying to solve murders. When she is called to the apparent suicide of a Noble Prize candidate, she immediately knows that this wasn’t suicide but murder, but many questions remain. As Lawfer uses her gift to uncover the killer she also begins to piece together the kind of man the victim was. By the end of the story we completely sympathise with the killer as the victim wasn’t a nice man and used people including his wives and lovers to only further himself without a care for their feelings. This is the first story that I would definitely read if it were developed into a novella or even a full-length novel.
The Enduring was an amazing story that follows Vision and K. It is clear from the beginning that Vision isn’t human or if she is, she is a very extraordinary human. K is her husband but his jealousy and need to possess her is driving a wedge between them. Eventually K becomes so jealous and so driven to possess Vision that he kills her and cuts out her heart, but she doesn’t die. Her human form dies, and she is transferred into another form that stays with K even as he disposes of her previous body and she continue to endure him. This is another story I would love to see expanded on as it has a very interesting premise.
This was yet another story I would like to see expanding with its interesting premise. We follow Abella who is given a special button by her mother and tells her that this button when pushes will do her future down to five seconds so she can experiencing it in advance of it happening. While Abella doesn’t believe at first, she eventually gives into her curiosity and experiences the loves, losses, and tragedies of her future but she still hasn’t seen her soulmate. After a few pushes of the button she eventually meets Beau and knows he is the love of her life, however, she soon discovers that he was told his mother and sister died in childbirth but the picture he shows her is of her own mother meaning they are brother and sister. When she returns to present, she is heartbroken but continue to travel forward to Beau and continues to love him despite knowing the secret they share.
Diminy: Conception, Articulation and Subsequent Development
Diminy was an interesting story to begin with the ending left me a little confused. We are introduced to Professor John Bates in Londinium. 1905 AD who has been astounding the scientific community with his theories on human behaviour until his theory is disproven by a young man named Freudo. After witnessing Freudo’s experiments in person, Bates knows he has been beaten and contemplates jumping into the future and into a different career as a fashion designer when he is involved in a car accident. The story ends with Bates in hospital with injuries that affect his speech as he tries to explain to the doctors who he is and he must realise in this moment he can recreate himself but I am not sure what the ending was trying to do.
This was another interesting story as we are introduced to the daughter of the sun and the many lives she has lived, and we join her as she is reborn as a human known as Scorcher. Scorcher ends up meeting a man who loves her dearly but her dual nature and the volatile nature she possesses drive him off at time but they always drift back together until one day it is too much for him to handle and tries to leave but finding himself being drawn back to the sun and burned to ashes in her wake.
Being Marcus was one of my favourite stories so far as Marcus is actually Brutus, one of the men that betrayed Caesar and helped murder him. However, it suicide only to be confronted by Julius and handed the sentence of eternal life. He travelled under the name Marcus and wanders for a long time before settling as a fitness instructor in a modern day gym as he reflects on the fact he had to leave behind the love of his life Portia because he couldn’t bear to watch her grow old and die when he couldn’t. However, during this reflection he speaks with Jade who reminds him so much of his wife and brings upon him and desire to be with a woman again, something he has abstained from for a long time and decides this time he is going to give into it as he asks her out for dinner. I would love to see Being Marcus expanded on as it would span timelines between Ancient Rome and the present day as well as combining elements of betrayal, punishment, grief, love and forgiveness into a compelling narrative.
Scars of Grief
Scars of Grief had a very interesting premise as we are introduced to a nameless author is writing a novel about families of murdered children whose lives where turned upside down by tabloids hacking their phones. However, it jumps back and forth between the author and the fictional story but it seems to blur together making me think that the author and one character in particular are the same person and what we are reading as fictional is actually happening in the reality of the author.
The Animal I Am
This story was extremely amusing and gave me serious Bridget Jones vibes. We follow two friends, Nisa and Freya as they discuss the breakdown of Freya’s daughter’s relationship. K, the daughter and her partner, C should have been an amazing couple as their zodiac signs are very compatible. However, Nisa explains to Freya that their Chinese Zodiac signs and elements are completely incompatible and dives into her diary detailing all of her key relationship and how compatible they were in terms of the Chinese Zodiac sign which was interesting and quite funny to read.
Ace Zone seemed interesting, but it was a little difficult to follow. We follow Ace after Ur killed her husband and she is moving through world looking for men to be made into soldiers that will obey at her command and we witness her seduce and mark one of these prospective soldiers but that’s about it. I would have a like this story to be expanded a little more, but it was still good overall.
A Pining was a great story for me personally, we follow a nameless male protagonist who is pining for his dead sister, Rocket and trying to find her replacement or reincarnation in others and he comes close in Ellie but in the meantime he falls for a woman named Pepper only to be betrayed by her which leave him pining for her too. Eventually this pining grows to great for him to stand and he takes his own life but even right at the end he wonders about the little girl in the park and what she will turn into as she grows.
Dying was a dark and hilarious story as we follow Bluey who is living groundhog day but dying in some hilarious fashions every day. However, the second he decides that he does want to die something stops him every time and it is beginning to drive him made until he proves it to his friend Coles. Bluey believes that there is something or someone controlling them and watching them every single moment of every single day which happens to be proven right but it was very funny to read.
The title of this story intrigued me, but it was a bit of a let down as it turned out to be a vampire story. We are introduced to characters like Dragon who have animal attributes when a mysterious woman arrives in the bar one day and everyone is drawn to her until one night she is introduced as a vampire called Wolfmother and the story ends. For this story to have been effective it should have been told from the traveller’s point of view as he is seduced and presumably killed by Wolfmother and that would have been far more interesting to read.
Touched confused me greatly at first as we are introduced to Flare who one day enters a church and leaves greatly enlightened by her experience there. Upon returning home she tries to deal with her sex obsessed boyfriend Amos when the angels lend her power to make him sleep. At some point during the night she awakes to get a drink only to have been followed home by the man raping and killing women and he has chosen her as his next victim but the angelic power she was given allows her to stop him. While I understood this story in the end, I only really understood what was happening when the killer appeared which was very close to the end.
He Refused to Name It
He Refused to Name It is another story that quickly became one of my favourites as Calder is told by Bear that his ex-girlfriend, M has died in childbirth and that the child is his. For some time, Calder doesn’t believe this and refuses to take the child but Bear eventually manages to get Calder to take the baby but Calder refuses to name the child referring to the baby as it. As he tries to get to grips with fatherhood, he is noticing that there his feet are always cold, things like bottles and nappies suddenly appear when he needs them, and he doesn’t remember buying them so he assumes to must be M from beyond the grave. However, when he tries to confront Bear about it, he finds that the man has vanished, and no one knows who he is on about like he never existed in the first place. In the aftermath of that he decides to name the child Zoe and just continues to put up with the strange things happening in his home.
A Man Full of Shadows
A Man Full of Shadows introduces us to Ralph Cooper, a man haunted by his demons as he ends up in an alternate reality and meets a beautiful woman who happens to work in a facility where they block the memories of the war from his mind, easing the burden of the shadows he carries around with him.
Playback, Jury of the Heart
The final story in the collection was Playback, Jury of the Heart and it was the longest story in the collection. I actually don’t really want to talk about this one as it was the best story in the collection and discussing anything about it gives away what the story is about. Jury of the Heart focuses mainly on love, the good, the bad and the ugly and how we overcome that in order to free ourselves to love again. The characters of Liam and Sugar were really compelling, and we felt for both of them and that ending near broke my heart.
Overall, The Road to Woop Woop and other stories was an up and down journey for me. There were some stories like Playback, Jury of the Heart, He Refused to Name It and Five Second Button that I absolutely adored, but there were some like Wolfmother and A Good Ball that I just didn’t really understand or enjoy. As a whole it was good read but I felt that expanding some stories would have really made this a solid 5 star read for me.
Buy it here:
Also see: The Invisible
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eugen Bacon is African Australian, a computer scientist mentally re-engineered into creative writing. She’s the author of Claiming T-Mo (Meerkat Press) and Writing Speculative Fiction (Macmillan). Her work has won, been shortlisted, longlisted or commended in national and international awards, including the Bridport Prize, Copyright Agency Prize, Australian Shadows Awards, Ditmar Awards and Nommo Award for Speculative Fiction by Africans.
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I received this copy for review consideration from the publisher.