Darker With The Lights On, by David Hayden, is a collection of twenty short stories written in captivating, modernist prose. The language is lyrical, in places magical, the plot progression often surreal. There is a dreamlike quality to many of the tales which explore loneliness and reactions to lived experience. The agitation in the telling adds intensity to even the mundane.
The collection opens with Egress, narrated by a man sharing his observations after he steps off a ledge outside his office, high above street level. Whatever his consciousness may be travelling in has not yet hit the ground after several years.
In Hay an engineer is called to solve a problem in a mine being flooded by workers’ tears. His solution turns into a capitalist triumph, for which I constructed my own interpretation. The continuing presence of the giant haystack added to the deviance of this tale.
There follow several stories exploring disconnection: a man coming to terms with the woman in his life leaving by selling their belongings; a house where each physical object is a memory, although it is not clear whose; a man buried in sand as the tide comes in while others dance on the beach; a dinner party where nobody mentions the presence of a charred corpse ceremonially laid on the table.
A number of the tales take enjoyable events and inject them with a quiet malignance. In others there is sudden violence, barely acknowledged in plot progression.
An Apple In The Library has a customer borrowing the eponymous fruit which he consumes and then returns, his hunger sated. At face value this could be a simple metaphor for books, but I consider it unlikely this is all the author intended. In reading prose of such perspicacity I wonder how clever I am expected to be.
Much is left for the reader to ponder; the opacity can be disquieting and sometimes weird. Morbidity and the tarnishing of innocence since childhood is ruminated, although it is not a depressing book.
Dark themes may pervade but attention is drawn by the stunning imagery. Whatever my considerations on each story, I appreciated the author’s weaving of words.
This anthology would, I suspect, offer further insights on repeated readings. It is challenging, vital and eloquent; as unsettling as it is intriguing.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Little Island Press.