|The Theory of Light and Matter by Andrew Porter|
|Category: Short Stories|
|Reviewer: Louise Laurie|
|Summary: A slim volume of American contemporary culture in short story form. Porter is not afraid to show the uglier, underbelly of this vast and varied country.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 192||Date: April 2010|
|Publisher: Jonathan Cape|
Both the book cover and its title are enticing, quirky, eye-catching. Personally, I'm a fan of most things American including American fiction, so I couldn't wait to start reading. I was not disappointed. Porter introduces us to characters, many of whom would probably be described as deeply flawed. He shares the darker side of modern-day American life with the reader - which is far from the bright lights of glitzy New York or the sun-drenched beaches of California. You could say that this is all about real life. To underline his point, Porter's characters are mostly local folks (to use a favourite American word) shuffling through life as best they can.
So, for instance, in the very first short story we're told about a tragedy involving several local people - and of the huge level of guilt carried thereafter by one survivor. This guilt is like a dead weight around his neck.
The writing throughout is tight, taut, sparse and it works. It all gives the reader a strong sense of the sheer drudgery of many of the characters who inhabit this book. The build-up in story one is, in my opinion, very good. When Porter tells us matter-of-factly that Tal is ten years old and should not be mowing the lawn ... I could get a sense of where this story was heading.
Tellingly, several of the characters retell their stories years later and I think most of us can relate to how our memories can sometimes play tricks on us. Was the weather really that hot that day? or was the neighbour's dog really so out of control?
Despair and sadness is a common theme. Characters at a crossroads in their lives, often making a lousy (another favourite American word in keeping with the theme) decision and regretting it, big time. We're also given insights into, for example, mental health issues, excessive drinking, marriages gone sour.
Often in short stories there's simply not enough time (when every word should earn its place on the printed page) to give a decent flavour of the various characters. One story is barely two pages long. But Porter's skill draws out the necessary elements to hook us, draw us in. My favourite story concerns a professional couple desperate to be 'cool', to be 'with it' - with tragic results. Porter's description of the party is a lovely piece of writing.
There's a little bit of humour dotted about, but not much.
In Coyotes the cosmopolitan element of the USA kicks in; the whole melting pot of nationalities which make up that vast country. Different cultures trying to rub along, make a half-decent living for themselves and their families. So, for example, we're introduced to Chau who had grown up in Vietnam ... who had ... been allowed to carry a machete in school and how he had cut people with that machete ...
There's, as you might expect, a lot of poverty and hopelessness about Porter's characters. It seeps through the whole book, like engine oil. Lots of poor kids dragged up by 'asshole' parents etc. Perhaps a sub-title to this novel could well be ... what if?
Although I read this book easily in one sitting, I think it would be a more pleasurable reading experience to perhaps take a little more time, stop and savour the individual stories. Dip in and out at random. All in all, an enjoyable read.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
If this book appeals then try Revenge of the Lawn by Richard Brautigan.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Theory of Light and Matter by Andrew Porter at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Theory of Light and Matter by Andrew Porter at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.