The Dressing Up Box eARC David Constantine gifted review

(ad, gifted) The Dressing Up Box – David Constantine eARC: Review & Recommend | LATEST RELEASES

Thank you to the publishers, Comma Press for providing a free e-copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Title: The Dressing Up Box
Author: David Constantine
Publisher: Comma Press
Release Date: Out now!
Genre: Short Stories

TW: One of these stories contains child abuse (with sexual abuse implied), and there is also some racist language used in two of the stories.

I didn’t really know what to expect going into The Dressing-Up Box. To be entirely honest, I’d actually forgotten that it was a short story collection rather than a novel. Despite loving short stories, I have to admit I was a little bit disappointed when the first story ended and I was presented with a new set of characters, because I was burning to read more about the children in the first story. The opening story is where the collection takes its name from: a group of children are living in a large house, with an almost military-style guard rota in place. Quite why these children are here alone, and why they need to guard the house from the adults outside is a mystery, and it was a mystery I wanted solving! But no, I was whisked away to a new setting, new characters, with just a thematic overlap to tie me back to the story I wanted so desperately to read more of.

Some of the stories definitely stood out to me more than others. The Dressing-Up Box, the first story in the collection was one such story. When I Was A Child, the story of the Catholic orphanage where the children are abused also stood out to me as a particularly dark exploration of the themes recurring throughout the collection, and again — I wanted to read more, I wanted to know these children would be saved. But there’s no real salvation in most of these stories. The other story that I remember standing out to me the most was Ashton and Elaine, the story of a young black boy found and taken in by a white family. All the characters in this collection share a need for sanctuary, and some of them tentatively find something they could call safe, or home, while others are left searching. The other recurring theme throughout this collection is the theme of withdrawal, which I noticed in varying degrees throughout the stories. In some, like Ashton and Elaine, where Ashton refuses to speak for a long time, this withdrawal is obvious, but in some other stories it was much more subtle, and sometimes I actually struggled to see how a story slotted into the wider collection.

These stories are, generally, quite dark, bordering on gothic in places. I felt like David Constantine’s writing style really suited the dark aspect of the collection. Many of the stories did blur into one another, however, and there are a few titles that I couldn’t tell you anything about the story they belong to. Sometimes the characters seemed flat, and with this lack of depth in the characters I struggled to stay engaged through some of the stories. This is definitely a collection for when you’re able to give it your full attention, because I found myself latching onto distractions more than the stories in some parts, which I will admit I am often liable to do.

In the story entitled Rivers of Blood, a story told in the form of a dialogue (not quite a transcript, but a transcript written into sentences), one character uses the n-word in uncensored form. The character was quoting someone else, in the context of criticising them, but I felt uncomfortable that a white author was using the uncensored version of the word. The rest of this story focuses on the characters reminiscing, talking about their shared history of protest and discussing aspects of politics relating to race. I am not a Black person, so I don’t want to make judgement on whether or not the use of the word in this context was appropriate, but it was certainly jarring to read.

I find short story collection reviews quite tricky to write often, because there’s no main characters to latch onto and analyse, there’s no overarching plot to discuss whether or not the pacing was strong, and it would be too much to talk about every story in the collection. Overall, I didn’t enjoy The Dressing-Up Box as much as I was hoping for, mostly because I found some of the stories and characters quite forgettable. However, I would recommend this book to fans of dark short stories, and there certainly were a few stories in this collection that really grabbed my attention and held on to it.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

This review also published on GoodReads and The StoryGraph.

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