Blair's Reviews > Living Together

Living Together by Matt Thomas
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really liked it
bookshelves: 2018-release, contemporary, short-stories

Nightjar Press stories tend to come in pairs and, like Florence Sunnen's The Hook, Matt Thomas's Living Together is about family. The narrator's sister needs someone to help care for her son Thomas, who has been left with extensive scarring after treatment for cancer. With an unreliable pattern of work, the narrator is happy to accept, though he is repulsed by Thomas's 'wounds' (a horribly evocative word here) and the smell of his dressings. Later he will be berated for not contributing more, for causing trouble, though we do not necessarily understand why.

Is the narrator unreliable? He alludes to a potential relationship with his sister's friend Gail, but his attitude towards women leaves something to be desired and he is later told that he 'needs to leave Gail alone'. Or is he the only innocent one (aside from Thomas) in the story? A hospital visit suggests his sister has been lying about Thomas's medical needs, nudging the reader towards the idea of Munchausen by proxy. When the narrator attempts to ask her about this, she parrots lines we have already heard from him: when he was a boy, he would pretend to be unable to understand what she was saying in order to make her cry.

Woven through the book are hints of a troubled family history. 'We always had a fairly difficult time getting on.' 'These evenings reminded me of our mother's attempts at a home life.' 'When we were children, our mother would occasionally leave us alone for days at a time.' These telltale lines are echoed through the behaviour of the narrator and his sister, both seemingly rendered incapable of sustaining normal relationships.

Living Together is also about the precarity of life in London. Before he comes to live with his sister, the narrator lives in part of a converted warehouse where four people share a flat with one window. His sister's street has proper houses but dubious neighbours. His only constants are his routes around the city, which he recounts in detail, almost lovingly.

Altogether I'm not sure what to make of Living Together – I don't have a neat conclusion to draw here – but it certainly leaves an impression. I will be puzzling out all its meanings for a while.

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Reading Progress

August 6, 2018 – Started Reading
August 6, 2018 – Shelved
August 6, 2018 – Finished Reading

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