Short Story Review: Call it “The Bug” Because I Have No Time to Think of a Better Title by Toby Litt

Story Title: Call it “The Bug” Because I Have No Time to Think of a Better Title by Toby Litt
Collection/Anthology?: ***
Briefly: A writer offers an insight into his writer’s life, or rather he gives details of a story that he would have written were his mother not dying from ovarian cancer.
Afterthoughts: I found this story to be refreshingly original, while at the same time being quietly tender. Fundamentally it’s a scifi tale, about an Apple-esque gadget of the future that one swallows in order for it to monitor a person’s well being. The person in the future who owns this particular bug is Clar, but she owns an older model and with it not be able to detect as many problems as newer models, she finds herself slowly dying. Another woman, Ela, has come to care for Clar until she dies and the bug removes itself from the body (you don’t want to know) so that she can take ownership.

There is more to the story than what I’ve said above. It ends up being rather inventive and somewhat humourous in parts, but the point that make this story tender, are the punctuations in the narrative where the fictional author is relaying facts and observations about his dying mother. It’s clear that he is struggling to cope, and it makes one wonder if his story is a construct meant to help him cope with his impending loss. He says that this is a story he would write if his mother weren’t dying, but it feels as though he’s writing the story more because his mother is dying. Thoughtful and clever stuff.

Notable quote: If my mother weren’t dying of ovarian cancer, and I hadn’t come home to be around my father, I might have written a story something like part of the following (Choose Your Own Adventure, please): A young woman, Ela, travels by great glass elevator to one of the geostationary spaceports encircling the toxic Earth. Ela has made contact through some minimal, slangy future form of the internet (retina- based) with Clar, an old woman. Clar’s implant – which I was thinking of calling an ‘imp’ or an ‘iBug’ but am now simply and exhaustedly going to call a ‘bug’.

Rating: ★★★½☆

*What the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award judges said about this story: Lionel Shriver – ‘Most experienced writers will recognize the irritation at having to adhere to tired fictional conventions at the best of times – like inserting one more scene to establish a character is “sympathetic” – and Toby Litt captures that irritation writ large when tragedy on the other side of the computer screen strikes.’

EFG Short Story Award This story was read as part of an overall review of the 2013 Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award shortlist. For further details of the award and the stories to be found on the shortlist, please visit the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award section on the Booktrust website.

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).