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Oct242018

The Anti-Austerity Anthology, reviewed by Casey Dorman

The Anti-Austerity Anthology

Edited by Rupert Dreyfus, Harry Whitewolf and Mike Robbins

Amazon Digital Services, 2018

Concern about rising national debts throughout Europe and the UK since the 2008-9 recession, have led to so-called “austerity programs” in many countries. The dual approaches to austerity have been to raise taxes and to lower government spending, although, in the United States then-president Obama’s  response to the recession was a series of “stimulus packages,” which involved injecting government money into the economy to counteract unemployment and business failure. Almost uniformly, the austerity programs have hurt those most vulnerable in the societies in which they were implemented. Depending upon the country, government worker pay, mental health expenditures, unemployment programs, pensions, and most social programs have been cut to reduce spending. Increases in homelessness, poverty rates, unemployment and even death rates have been seen in vulnerable populations.

The Anti-Austerity Anthology, a collection of (mostly) British short stories, poems, and essays published by the Anti-Austerity Collective, which donated the proceeds from the book to food-bank charities, represents a literary response to austerity programs.

Rather than an exposé of the political and economic bases of the recession and the programs designed to combat it, which is well-covered in the Foreword  by Steve Topple and an essay by Mike Robbins, the contents of the anthology are personal stories of the pain, frustration and most of all, the powerlessness felt by the victims of austerity programs.

I felt that the short stories generally worked better than the poetry in this collection, mostly because the stories seemed more personal and the poetry more political. Some of the poems were powerful, however, in their use of words, Matthew Duggan’s “Charcoal,” for instance, or a poem such as “Prole Baseline” by Ford Dagenham.

Riya Anne Polcastro’s story, “The Night Shift” is horrifyingly memorable for the realistic picture it portrays of  a nurse, paralyzed by an attack from an emergency room patient and subsequently denied health and social services as her husband becomes more and more frustrated to the point of violence. Chris Harrison’s “The Bet” is a quirky tale of the inaccuracy of public opinion about those who can’t find jobs and the surprising response of one man who finds out the truth about the difficulty of finding employment.  The extract from her book The Single Feather, by Ruth F. Hunt, reveals how depression and competition for the meager resources available to those with disabilities can turn one person against another and rob those most needing it from support. Mary Papastavrou’s story, “Maria Jumps,” is a frightening view of life inside a dystopian society in which only the powerful survive. A few writers are able to inject humor—black humor—into their stories: Rupert Dreyfus in “Workfarce,” for instance, or Harry Whitewolf in “Word Tax.” The fake and hilarious advertisements of Jay Spencer Green are  a welcome lightness interspersed throughout the book. 

It’s impossible to come away from the Anti-Austerity Anthology without being personally affected. I’ve singled out a few of the entries that struck a particularly responsive chord with me, but none of the stories or poems is weak and all convey a message.The book is a testament to the personal toll on people’s lives that a government more interested in economic matters and preservation of the wealth of the rich and powerful can have. It’s also a wonderful example of how art can be turned to the examination of social issues.

I strongly recommend the book.

 

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