:: Article

Yes Yes More More

By Alex Diggins.

Anna Wood, Yes Yes More More (The Indigo Press, 2021)

Do not read this book on an empty stomach. More than any cookbook, Anna Wood’s Yes Yes More More left me ravenous. It booms with appetite. After surfacing from its 15 slim, enrapturing stories, I wanted to unhinge my jaw and swallow the world in great, greedy gulps. They leave you stupid with satisfaction. But I still went back for seconds.

Sex, drugs and being young are great. But great things aren’t easy to write about. I have a low gag threshold, for instance, for the work of William S. Boroughs, and even some of the OGs of trippy literature, such as Aldous Huxley and Thomas De Quincey, are worth it only for that first humming rush. Once the sun starts coming up, and your eyes get all gummy and scratchy, you know it’s time to crawl back to your duvet and tangle in a pretzel of sweat and self-loathing.

So Yes Yes More More, whose subjects, at least on the surface, are sex, drugs and being young, should have jangled. That it doesn’t is a hat-tip to Wood’s marvellous prose and her sly, slinky way of looping interesting ideas round your legs just as the tunes are picking up. She writes sentences so good you want to swim laps in them. Of two teenage girls out on the lash: “We were belting out our song, striding like jaguars and immune to other people”. Or: “She climbed onto the bed. It was big enough for Claire and Karen. From up there she felt like she might need to row, or steer, or order supplies in”. These literary fist-bumps reminded me of Douglas Adams at his aphoristic best. “He stretched out his chest,” Adams wrote in Hitchhiker’s. “Like you would need a team of Sherpas to cross him”. I first read that line 15 years ago, and I suspect some of Wood’s will prove just as enduring.

Wood, in common with lots of debut writers, is a bit of a mystery. The publisher’s puff tells me she has written for several papers and magazines, and has an MA in Creative Writing from UEA. The author’s note is even more taciturn. “Anna Wood lives in London,” it says, below a picture of a woman, presumably Wood, with a half-smile, gazing into the camera in a park.

Yes Yes More More offers more clues. While not obviously autofictional like Rachel Cusk’s work, it seems to taunt with autobiography. As we read, a real person — a woman in her mid-thirties, who works in journalism and lives in north London — seems to dart ahead, vanishing round the corner into fiction. Several of the stories feature a protagonist, or protagonists, called Annie. And the collection follows a roughly chronological arc: the first, ‘Rise Up Singing’, traces a school day’s LSD trip in Bolton; the last, ‘Meeting’, narrates a visit to a friend’s house, soundtracked by the huffy silences of her teenage children. In fact, it’s ‘Meeting’ which shows Wood’s hand most clearly. In a Kafkaesque rabbit-out-the-hat, the narrator is greeted at the door by her doppelgänger. The two come to an agreement: “Other Me” will go out the front door and continue with the mundane contours of the narrator’s life. She, meanwhile, will slip out the back into “soft sweet air… rain on greenest leaves, mossy earth underfoot, a nice cup of tea. All days of glory, joy and happiness”.

Days of glory, joy and happiness is a fair description of most of Yes Yes More More. Several of the stories take place in the tawdry, sticky-sweet grace of a nightclub after midnight; another sinks into the delicious endlessness of a boozy afternoon in a pub on a sunshiny Sunday. “What’s more important in life than love and music and friends and dancing?” asks one character. And Wood makes a pretty good case for them all: her stories amble about, butterfly net in hand, catching the floating threads of connection which only arise when everyone is drunk, pinging, horny. Or all three. But she’s keen, too, on more wholesome pleasures. She revels in the animal delight of sinking beneath the waters of a chilly pond, or encountering a stag in a moonlit Scottish forest, “haughty and magnificent, breezy and powerful”.

Yet it’s not all lotus-eating. There’s a darker undertow as well. In that nighttime Scottish encounter, the climax of ‘At the Log Cabin by the Lake in the Woods’, the story teeters between terror and wonder; the two characters, Claire and Karen, are city slickers arriving late at a remote hideaway. Cringing from the expansiveness of an evening without the TV or bright lights, they drink hard. Then they hear a “great croaking howl” and, terrified, dash out to investigate. The night is vertiginous, a scene from Brothers Grimm: “the surface of the lake a not-there barrier to another world beneath, the trees all various but all the same and pulling you in”. As with Daisy Johnson’s work, surfaces are suspect in Yes Yes More More; the world is beguiling, but also fey, fickle and devious. We plunge in, and don’t know where we’ll come up.

A couple of stories tackle more straight-forwardly bruising concerns. One, ‘A Shania Story’, ends with a grimy sex at the fag-end of a night out; it’s not quite rape, but it’s certainly not consensual. And its matter-of-fact description scalds after the strung-out joyousness of the earlier nightclub scenes. It’s an effect which is deepened by the next story, ‘Pussycat’, the shortest at just a paragraph, which begins: “Consent is clear with my pussycat”.

You could largely set your watch by the stories in Yes Yes More More: they arrive precisely when they mean to, and don’t outstay their welcome. In fact, the only one that lingers a little too long is the penultimate ‘Sex in New Orleans’. It’s about mid-life funk and throwing it off in New Orleans, “a sultry city, a glooping and glittering world of blossoming trees and pearls”. And it’s largely well done. But there’s only so much zest you can wring from the experience of being a stranger in a strange bar, eyeing up the local talent. As it goes on, it gets a bit Geoff Dyer-ish — no bad thing, perhaps, but it is telling that the strongest stories in this collection are the ones which detail pairings and friendships. Wood writes wonderfully about the push-and-pull proximity of how friendships warp and change over time. In a dream, one character recalls the dress of a school friend. “I would like to hold onto that dress like a Linus blanket, like a lover in a cliche gripping the sheet” — it’s a beautiful, characteristic moment: the tactility of memory, its starchy urgency. The other character in the story, naturally, is called Marcel.

“Fiction has a new star in its firmament” gushes Carol Ann Duffy on the cover of Yes Yes More More. And for once, such praise is substantial — and deserved. There is indeed something glistering, hard-edged and remote about these stories; but they hold, too, a woozy wonder, a sense of dream-like possibility. After all, we prod the night sky with telescopes and satellites. But our first response is perhaps the most honest: to lie back, to stare.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alex Diggins is a writer and editor based in London. His writing has appeared in, among others, The Economist, The TLS, The Los Angeles Review of Books, 3:AM Magazine and The Spectator. He is also published in Rife: Twenty-One Stories from Britain’s Youth (Unbound). Reach him on Twitter: @AHABDiggins.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, May 30th, 2021.