Every time I start a review about a short story collection, I say the same thing. I say how they are a thing of beauty – a snapshot of life, held between one or three pages, maybe fourteen or fifteen – and that truly great short story collections transport you everywhere and anywhere, from one piece to the next. These are things I say a lot, to anyone who will listen, and, truth be told, I’m going to say it all again, because ‘How The Light Gets In’ by Clare Fisher embodies all of the above. A collection of short stories and really really short stories [some only half a page long] Fisher’s work is a treasure trove of miniature fictions [although some, I assume, are less than fictitious]. It holds multitudes throughout – heartbreak, hilarity, the achingly familiar, the mundane moments of life written in such a way – with such texture – that they are worthy of printing on paper.
Published by Influx Press, the collection itself is split into four parts, each section playing on the theme set in the title; light, and all its facets. The decision is unique, more than welcome, and gives structure to a book, that [and it’s not to its detriment] can feel fluid at times. In fact, I found myself reading everything out of any linear order – each piece lending itself to such an act.
The four sections – Learning to Live with Cracks, How the Light Gets Between You and Me, How the Light Gets Out and Learning to Live with Cracks Again, explore the spaces, the moments, the details, between the light and the dark, how we find ourselves in dark moments, what lurks there, and how we drag ourselves out. It is both deliciously bleak and wonderfully full, depending on which piece you read.
The skill that Fisher imbues each section with too – a quiet nod to the theme rather than being heavy handed – is simply an innovative joy to read; I have, truly, never come across anything quite like it. And whilst many stories or snapshots never repeat themselves across sections, certain elements, specifically the recurrence of her ‘dark places to watch out for list’ which include things such as ‘the bottom of the bin’, ‘Revs on a Friday night’ [a personal favourite there, and oh so relatable], ‘wet seats’, ‘the drawer under the bed where you keep hiking polls’, instils a sense of coherence and creation – a carefully curated piece that is perhaps not as disjointed as it occasionally feels.
I usually, in any review of a short story collection, give airtime to each piece – here, with the book clocking in over 60 entries, I cannot [well, I could, but we’d be here for a long time]. There’s too much to pick from, too many moments to explore, that I fear I wouldn’t do them enough justice. But there are a few pieces that are worthy of a mention [many more, I should say, are also worthy]. Yet these are the ones that made me stop, read and re-read again, just to let what I’d devoured sink into my psyche a little more.
‘The thing about sheep’ and ‘a shock’ are two that strike deep, for different reasons. The latter, whilst short, is deathly comical – black humour perhaps, you don’t want to laugh, but Fisher makes you, a skill she possesses throughout. Here a man jumps from a building, a shock to everyone no doubt, but, as Fisher notes, not quite as much as a shock for the woman who was eating cake ‘a few hundred meters below and – fortunately – several metres to the left of him’.
‘The thing about sheep’ is Fisher playing with humour once again, but demonstrating another portrait of her work, the familial. There’s the weekend trips to the country, followed usually by a disaster, and the inclusion of a brother and his annoyance come jealously surrounding sheep. It’s more than that though – his envy not just surface level. And that’s where Fisher excels. In providing familiar [if occasionally odd] pieces of fiction – and mastering the details in between. ‘blip’ is another fresh cut of life. A three-pager about skype, about communication in the modern age – things said, things not – and the interruptions of technology. ‘the genius’ – less of a story more of an extended ‘moment’, is achingly familiar whilst ‘things smartphones make you less likely to do when alone, in a public place’ lists exactly that, from ‘staring at every passing stranger’ to ringing ‘your friend to find out about their exotic holiday’. And whilst some stories, in such a lengthy collection, did pass me by, which I think is to be expected, [you cannot be affected by everything], I know that on a second and maybe third read, which the book lends itself to, I would connect with them differently – which again showcases Clare Fisher’s brilliance.
Fisher writes in a way that is personal, and relatable – at times it felt as though she’d popped round my house and had a chat with me. The decision to set many of the pieces up north too, specifically in Leeds, hit close to home [for me] as well. Again, she is working in the familiar – her stories all the better [in my humble opinion] for it. Reflection of ourselves, of our light and dark, is something she has down to a T.
A worthy addition then, to any book collection.
Clare Fisher born and made in Tooting, south London, award-winning short story writer. Clare Fisher’s first novel, All the Good Things, was published by Viking in 2017. She now lives in Leeds, where she writes, works as a bookseller and teaches creative writing.
Reviewed by Emily Harrison
You can read our review of All The Good Things here.
You can also read our interview with Clare Fisher here.
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