PART I: NOT AT ALL ABOUT ATTRIB. AND OTHER STORIES
Slowly, the energy is dissipating. Slowly, the momentum I’ve been using to push through this (now) month and a half of sobriety is running out. I’ve stopped necking espresso and ibuprofen near-constantly and I’ve settled, I suppose, into the way most people see the world most of the time. And it’s fucking shit.
The rain is always there, the grey clouds and the grey buildings and the grey smog coming out the back of grey cars… Everything is grey, and sober there are no gaps, no pauses, not a single impasse, in the relentless grey. Few things are more terrifying to the recovering addict than the proof of life’s torpor.
There is no shining rainbow that hides, out of sight, my eyes blind to it due to the booze. There is no happiness and satisfaction, no hope or redemption, unfound somewhere other than the bottom of a bottle.
There are great books, and with sobriety I am better placed to read them, appreciate them, slip into them, but that’s all there is. Music is fun, but no more fun to the sober mind than it is to the intoxicated one, so it all falls apart when you look at it hard.
Thirty more years, drinking as I was, or fifty more years, without another drink, of dull mundanity? If this is how tiresome not being young (but not yet old) while sober is, how fucking dull must sobriety become when you can’t physically climb mountains, swim in the sea, dance for hours or see well enough to read..?
Life isn’t going to get more exciting, interesting, fun, is it, as my body continues to rot? I’ve already lost my hair, so romance and sexuality (unless I get into the masked orgies scene) are already lost, which was fine when I at least had the bottle to fall asleep inside nightly.
Without the bottle, all I’ve got is books and my dog. But I cannot read for 24 hours a day, and my dog is a living thing with his own wants and needs so sometimes behaves like a dick.
Maybe I should try to cultivate a social life again, but I’m struggling to do that. Most people don’t want to hang out with a depressed alcoholic even when he’s “up”, but NO ONE wants to hang out with a depressed alcoholic who isn’t even drinking and thus no longer giving out free booze. The point of me has evaporated, I have floated away. I haven’t started drinking again but it is inevitable, shortly, soon, it will be here. Before the booze trickles back into my bloodstream and I feel alive again, I imagine within a week, here’s another sober book review, this time of a charming collection of stories written by Eley Williams and published by Influx Press.
PART II: MOSTLY ABOUT ATTRIB. AND OTHER STORIES
Attrib. and other stories is a short story collection. I don’t know why I keep reading short story collections, this makes it like seven or eight of the last ten books I’ve read, and it’s not even a genre I especially warm to. I plan to delve into novels for a bit after this. Delve, dive, swim-
My focus is gone, like what happens when I try to write drunk. Only I’m not drunk, I’m sober but the waves of depression that the shock of sobriety had been holding back have been cracking back into-
Attrib. and other stories contains about twenty pieces, most of which are around ten pages long. So these are short stories, there is a cohesion to their themes and tones that marks them as the work of a single writer, but enough difference between their content, characters and settings to clarify that they are distinct. These are not stories that could be a novel, a collage, a kaleidoscopic mirage of a fractured scene, these are separate stories, and that is a relief.
I can’t fucking do it any more, I don’t think. I think I’m just too fucking tired and bored and dried up. The words slide out of me when I try to write about depression but when I try to engage with the works of a collection of short stories I come up short. This is why I prefer novels. When I read a novel I have one story, one central idea, one conceit to latch onto, to tie my opinions and my reactions to. When I read essays I can write about their themes, what is discussed. When I read short stories and then try to respond to them here, what I end up doing is leaving myself with a sense of confusion – I cannot go into every story with the detail it deserves. I cannot offer the right level of focus and interest and importance. I can write about my favourite stories and my favourite settings, but I cannot look into these pieces, these stories, in the singular, focused, way I like to look into the stories at the heart of novels. [Why am I pissing around making Triumph of the Now TV when I’m struggling to write? Why am I I I I-]
FOCUS FOCUS FOCUS
These stories are beautiful, lyrical, linguistic. Full of definitions and exploration of sensory experience. We meet a synaesthete and explore the problems this has on Love; we meet a group of strangers brought together by a dead whale that seems to represent a hole in the existence of each of them; we meet people obsessed with dictionaries, turtles, language, loss. Williams plays with memory and with words. A person stares at a year-old photograph of a departing lover (or friend) and explores the background in order to avoid engaging with the abandonment felt at the loss; a person whose lover has recently departed stalks the city remembering definitions of words but not the fresh arguments that are too sore to contemplate; a chef whose lover leaves due to their job preparing ortolans (if you don’t know what that is click, it’s worth learning); in fact there are a lot of stories here about people who have been left, people who have lost, people for whom language and art is all that remains as they survey the life they have lived. Maybe in fact that’s why I’m feeling so fucking low, because of how much loneliness has been in this and Pond, the other book I’ve read over the last few days. I don’t know how much my mood is affected by what I read, but I think quality over content tends to make more of a difference. I hope, anyway, though maybe that’s completely wrong.
Williams’ writing is emotionally engaged and linguistically playful. This collection has been highly acclaimed for all the right reasons – it is gorgeous, moving, intelligent, it contains striking images and nuanced emotion. It’s a good collection of stories, yeah, but without looking more closely at any individual stories I can’t say much more.
One of them had a whale in. I find whales spellbinding.
Maybe I should be seeking out whales to fix the problems with my soul. Maybe they’ll never be fixed.
A good book, worth a read.
What the hell am I doing with my life?