Muscle and Mouth

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Read 29/04/2022

Rating 5 stars

I heard Louise Finnigan read from her short story Muscle and Mouth at a literary event recently. The story is part of the Fly on the Wall Press Shorts series. It’s about Jade, an A-level student in Manchester who has ambitions to study at Durham University.

Finnigan captures the atmosphere inside the flat on the council estate perfectly, from the way the streetlight falls into the room, to the smell of sweat and weed.

Jade is interviewing her friend Stephen and his two friends Mikey and Connor for an essay. Part sociological study, part examination of linguistics, her mark will be crucial for her acceptance at Durham.

Jade is from the same council estate but has begun the process of smoothing herself out by going to college and by changing the way her mouth forms her words. University, she knows, will complete the alteration in her. Her time with Stephen, Mikey and Connor brings the changes already wrought in her into sharp relief.

Jade transforms the events of the evening into an essay that coolly assesses the three men in terms of their socioeconomic status, their spoken language, and their limited dreams. But we are with her throughout the evening, and we see the humanity and the emotion that exists beyond the page.

When she hands her work in and endures the silence of her teacher assessing its worth, Finnigan focuses on the physical tics that give away the teacher’s reaction. Her tapping and flexing foot in its patent leather shoe is particularly expressive. Her teacher’s verbal reaction reveals that Jade’s transformation glosses over her origins, with her teacher ignorant of the offence her words might cause.

The muscle and the mouth of the title are the components of a sense of belonging. Regional accents can be muscular and mouthy, particularly the Mancunian accent under consideration here. Regional accents can also be a verbal reflection of the way the speaker carries their physical self. If you listen to someone before you see them, you can hazard a guess at how they might stand, sit or walk.

I loved this story and how immersive it was. At the literary event, the author informed us that she had just finished her first novel and was readying it for submission to publishers. On the basis of this short story, I’m looking forward to reading it one day soon.

3 thoughts on “Muscle and Mouth

    1. It is worth the money, Margaret and, since it’s a single short story, might not be something a library would buy in. The press is worth supporting, too. The editor describes it as a publisher with a conscience. I have a couple more collections from them that I’ll be reading soon, both on interesting themes.

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