Father to the Man and other stories (by Adrian Plass)

I have enjoyed Adrian Plass’s writing ever since I first came across one of his books in the 1980s. Gradually we’ve collected them all, and I like to re-read my way through them from time to time.

We only acquired ‘Father to the Man’ fifteen or so years ago, and in that time I only seem to have read it once. It’s a series of short stories rather than a novel, and as such makes good bedtime reading. There are seven stories in all, mostly about family relationships (particularly fathers and sons) and problems of some kind, with a clear Christian theme coming through. However they are not remotely ‘preachy’.

Moreover, since I hadn’t read them for fifteen years, I’d totally forgotten what they were about. The first story, ‘Nothing but the Truth’, is about a man who dies suddenly in a road accident. However, the story doesn’t lead up to this unpleasant incident; it begins with it, and follows the middle-aged Mister Porter as he enters the afterlife, and finds it nothing like he imagined.

He meets various administrative staff, as he is evaluated and questioned, and discovers to his horror that he can no longer skate around the truth, or answer evasively. There’s some delving into his past, and in particular some incidents relating to his childhood. I found it a moving story, and quite thought-provoking.

The second one, ‘Friends coming round’, was rather more depressing. An English teacher overhears a conversation between two of the other staff at his school, one of whom he thought was a close friend. We then see this supposed friend and his wife coming to dinner at Edward’s house, and follow his thoughts as he tries to decide what to do about their tenuous relationship. However the ending is rather too open for my liking.

The first two stories are the longest, taking up almost half the book. The others are shorter; I particularly liked ‘posthumous cake’, where a family discuss a recently deceased relative who had made them a cake. There was a story by one of the author’s sons towards the end, too, which I enjoyed.

None of the stories is the greatest of literature, and some of them have rather a surreal feeling to them, but overall they were quite thought-provoking. Adrian Plass is particularly good at communicating spiritual issues coated in light humour or satire, often tinged with poignancy, and that comes across in this little book. The final story, ‘Small World’, is particularly moving in the last couple of paragraphs, and makes an excellent ending.

Not currently in print, but usually inexpensive second-hand.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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