Between light and darkness, what is there? According to Clare Fisher, just about everything.
How The Light Gets In is Fisher’s first short story collection, following her 2017 debut novel All the Good Things. It was published earlier this month by one of my favourite indies, Influx Press, who you may recall as being the publishers of last year’s award-winning collection Attrib. and other stories by Eley Williams. After enjoying Attrib. (you can read my review here), I was keen to read more from Influx, so I pre-ordered How The Light Gets In as soon as I spotted it on their website. Needless to say, I’m very pleased that I did.
In several respects, How The Light Gets In is unlike any collection I have ever read. First, there is the sheer quantity of stories in the collection: around 60, ranging from just a sentence in length to around seven pages long. Then there is Fisher’s commitment to theme. Every story in the collection fits around the central concept of light and dark and the points at which these two opposites meet. This is introduced in the opening story by that most mundane source of pseudo-philosophy, the fridge magnet:
blessed are the cracked for they let the light in.
But, while all the stories share the same theme, they are by no means repetitive. Each page takes the reader in a new direction – literal, figurative, experimental – as Fisher teases out every possible interpretation of the concept of light and dark. Take, for instance, the “dark places to watch out for” list that Fisher keeps returning to throughout her book. These dark places are everything from “the bottom of the bin – any bin will do” and “that strange brown blob floating under Waterloo Bridge” to “the silence which crusts around the woman who slaps her child on the bus”. Light, meanwhile, is as much the light of an iPhone screen or the name of the religion your parents once followed as it is the fluorescent logo of a Dixy’s Fried Chicken shop that marks the first tentative step out of depression. Light and dark become symbols of life, and the cracks the complexities that define it, be they in ourselves or the fractures that divide us from other people.
But if Fisher’s stories are united by this theme, they are by no means limited to it. How The Light Gets In is a honest, funny, and sad reflection of modern life, telling stories about the places and people other collections and writers might ignore. Many of these stories are told from or about an unapologetically working-class perspective that I relished: the Northern mother finding solace from the pressures of daily life by taking a shortcut through a shadowy ginnel; the Year 11 lad with all the swagger and the hidden vulnerability; the overheard conversation at the back of a bus.
A couple of stories didn’t quite land for me – one of the longest ones, “no longer than a selfie stick”, felt a little out of place – but with 60 other pieces to choose from, it’s a minor criticism that stems from my personal preference rather than any fault on Fisher’s writing ability.
Overall, How The Light Gets In is up there as one of my favourite short story collections of the year. If you’re in the market for a highly original collection of thoughtful stories that shed light on the beauty of everyday life, this is the book for you.
How The Light Gets In – a few of my favourites:
something else – Slip, the boy who was once known as Shorty and picked on at school, has grown into the young man everyone looks up to – unaware that he is just as vulnerable as he has always been. “The only similarity between Slip and Shorty is this itch of fear, which slides somewhere between his skin and his hoody.”
fried chicken – In the midst of a depression that keeps the speaker holed up in their room, the sight of the Dixy’s across the road marks the first step on a long road to “Being Properly Alive” again. “When people ask me how did I do it, I usually use big words like ‘faith’ and ‘trust’ even ‘perseverance’. But tonight is about shining a light on things worth shining a light on and so in this spirit I can reveal that the real answer is fried chicken.”
shortcuts – A mother takes a shortcut through a ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ ginnel to catch her bus to work, because she cannot afford to be late and because, there in the dark, she can steal a moment’s peace. “‘A car!’ they say. ‘What about a car?’ But I don’t say ‘owt because who wants to say that scraping together the cash for a car is about as likely as getting to Centre Parcs?”