In his introduction to Fissures, A Collection of a Hundred 100-word Stories, the author Grant Faulkner explains that the book is a “bag full of shards”, each one capturing the small, telling moments of existence: “I’ve always thought life is more about what is unsaid than what is said. We live in odd gaps of silence, irremediable interstices that sometimes last forever.”
Fissures is certainly an apt title – many of the stories revolve around moments of separation and disconnection; the heartache of missed chances, sexual loneliness and the deep cracks that open between lovers, travellers or families.
It’s not an easy task to achieve this level of resonance and depth when much of the armoury deployed in narrative fiction – plot, characterisation, pacing, extended imagery, description etc. – is limited by the drabble form. But this brings another kind of freedom – to create stories, sometimes tilted towards the fantastical, that contain just enough narrative thrust to create movement and change.
Of course the old adage that every word counts really applies here – at his best you imagine Faulkner dropping glittering words onto the page, then carefully blowing away the excess, leaving only those that make the whole picture glisten with colour and life.
In the story 'Drinking Martinis in Jelly Jars' the author swiftly summons a sense of easy living for a couple called George and Marjery: “Just last night they’d boiled lobsters over a driftwood fire on the rocks. George dozed on the sofa listening to Vivaldi.”
But discontent and a secret longing surfaces when their dog Beau runs off after another dog. Margery calls for him with a strange “Yooo hooo, yooo hooo,” that both annoys George and fills him with a melancholy regret: “He counted the women he’d kissed in his lifetime. Twenty-three. Never enough. Go Beau, he said under his breath.”
And in The Toad, a story about two people whose relationship is not made explicit Faulkner reveals a skill for crisp dialogue that puts in a shift on several levels – enhancing character, revealing mood and popping with thematic intent:
“Poor toad,” Maria said. “Didn’t know how to cross the road.”
“Maybe he thought the car was a new friend,” I said. “Rushing to greet him.”
“Or he was puzzling how such a small thing in the distance could become so large.”
For all the emphasis on dislocation and the liminal in this collection, there’s a strong sense of connection here too (after all, you can’t understand one without the other). Recurring characters are seeded throughout the book. The most obvious examples are Gerard and Celeste. The nature of their relationship is tenuous, unfulfilled, fragile and doomed, but their broken story gives the reader a connective thread through the whole work. It’s no coincidence that the book ends with a final Gerard and Celeste story, together “in another lifetime” which if not quite the perfect idyll, then at least in a moment of stillness and togetherness.
Like a good song, there is also a middle eight in this collection to create a change of pace and tone with a few humorous licks to the prose. Subtitled 'The Filmmaker: Eight Takes' it centres on Alexander, an ageing underground filmmaker with a bulbous belly, a penchant for tie-dye and a nasty dose of cystitis. It’s a concentrated hit of stories centring on a single character that reveals more about a life than many novels can achieve in ten times the word count.
Of course, in a collection of 100 stories there are some pieces, which don’t work as well as others. Occasionally, such as in the story 'Enough' the tone feels forced or the language a little flat. Other stories slip by too easily as merely scenes or vignettes, without enough underlying heft to give the reader pause. For example in 'Infamy' a large woman decides to walk through the town square naked. The response of onlookers and her sense of liberation is predictable.
Many of the stories also have fairly perfunctory one or two word titles. Maybe this was a calculated choice to fit in with the overall feeling of concision. But at times it felt like an opportunity missed to heighten the musicality or set the tone.
Fissures also throws up an interesting question – how best to read a book like this? Consume it all in one go? Confine yourself to one story per sitting, to be savoured like a finger of good malt whisky. Gobbled up in chunks, like a session dipping into a selection box? Or by trying to follow the stories containing recurring characters?
Maybe it doesn’t really matter. Maybe there is no best method to enjoy this collection, other than to admire the way, when the language sings and a sense of underlying resonance come together, these stories are bolts of lightning that illuminate wider worlds beyond the text itself.