If you want a chronicler of modern life, a life in perpetual motion, look no further than Chris Power. Every short story in Mothers, his first collection, is technically accomplished, swarming with fleshy characters and deep, intersecting plotlines. What attracts me to Power’s writing is his ability to capture, in the very pulse of his prose, the unsteady nature of experience itself. His characters are suspended in a state in which neither the past is distant, nor the future ceasing to loom. Place, or a sense thereof, is not a stable referent in his stories, but a fleeting junction. I wouldn’t give much away, but I have chosen ‘The Colossus of Rhodes’ over other brilliant texts in the collection because it demonstrates the kind of literary intimacy one can achieve by looking deep into the self and tapping into its fears.
First published in Mothers, Faber, 2018
Polished, sure-voiced, tense, like all the stories in Chris Power’s debut collection, ‘Above the Wedding’ takes the reader somewhere unexpected. A sensitive portrayal of the relationship between brothers Liam and Cameron – and of a forbidden gay relationship – the story encompasses myriad locations, moving through Brixton, Berlin, Nice, Acapulco, finally to an episode of epic drinking in Mexico City; an excruciating ten-day wedding, during which the male narrator realises he’s hopelessly in love with the groom. The story is brimming with stunning imagery, much of which is richly associative. The moon is a ‘severed head’. A sea-bed statue of the Virgin Mary, seen from a glass-bottomed boat, takes Liam back to the parish church of his youth. And the rabbits he awakes to at dawn after his drunken epiphany are symbolic of thwarted lust; with real love eternally elusive: ‘rabbits all around him, clinging to the grass with hunched intensity, their coats splashed with silver’.
First published in Mothers, Faber, 2018
I wasn’t going to pick this story, which is from Power’s first book. I didn’t know which to choose, so I re-read them all again, and could have stopped anywhere, enthused about any of them. En masse, they throb, a collective sense of unease building throughout, amplified by the same character, Eva, cropping up in three linked tales. Throughout Power’s simple language deceives, obscuring complex themes that make his work well worth revisiting. ‘The Haväng Dolmen’ starts with an archaeologist’s talk at a conference in Sweden and accompanies him on a trip to a Swedish stone-age burial site. The experience is intense, reviving memories of a bitter childhood encounter with a mean French boy on holiday and the knowledge that we are all going to die. Sometimes, though, it helps to remember that everyone shares these thoughts, which is why I’m recommending this but hoping you’ll be inspired to read the entire collection. (Incidentally, I knew nothing about this book when I picked it up in a bookshop, intrigued but the scratched-out face of a woman on the front. I didn’t even know Chris’s gender. And my experience was probably all the stronger for going in blind, so I hope I haven’t given too much away.)
First published on longreads.com. Collected in Mothers, Faber & Faber, 2018. Read it online here
There is more than one summer-themed story in Chris Power’s sparkling debut collection. I could just have easily picked ‘Innsbruck’, the second of the three linked stories about a woman called Eva that give the book not just its spine but also its central nervous system – but I’ve gone for ‘The Colossus of Rhodes’. Power splits the story between a recent family holiday (his unnamed narrator is married, with two young children) and a long-distant one, when he was ten years old. There are delicately sketched pen-portraits of the various family members, and a couple of luminous ‘spots-of-time’ moments that suck the story into them like a whirlpool*, but what I really love is the elegant way it unpacks itself at the end, making this the perfect story for our autofictional times. It doesn’t matter how closely Power’s ‘real’ life and experiences might happen to align themselves with his narrator’s fictional ones; what matters is how deftly he teases away at that border, and the conundrum it poses, which is where we seem to be looking, most often and most closely, for our meaning in literature just now.
* One of these moments, serendipitously enough, makes direct reference to another story picked in this summer special. You’ll have to read it to find out which.
In Mothers, Faber, 2018. Chosen by Jonathan Gibbs. Read Jonathan’s Personal Anthology here