The Theory of Light and Matter
Andrew Porter, Text Publishing
There’s a confessional sense to these beautifully crafted stories that pulled me in. I stayed the course because of gently intriguing storylines and trustworthy narrative voices — discovering in the process that Andrew Porter is the real storytelling deal.
This ten-story collection won the Flannery O’Connor Award for short fiction and it’s not hard to see why. Porter performs conjuring tricks with time and perspective that less accomplished writers would not get away with.
He also writes tenderly, which I savoured as a refreshing contrast to the slickness so often admired in US male authors in recent decades.
The pivot point for me came in the story “River Dog”, where a younger brother hears that his older brother has done something bad to a girl at a party. He can’t understand or come to terms with his brother’s behaviour, nor does he know what actually took place, so he writes an essay about it in college.
The professor scrawls on the front page: “The reader deserves to know what really happened.”
But do they? Can they?
Some of Porter’s best stories work precisely because his narrator fails to tell us, or to tell other characters, all of what has happened.
It is often the unknowing that makes the stories work so well. Much is hidden.
And isn’t this what memory is like? It hides some events and reveals others, shapes and reshapes narratives with extra pieces inserted or subtracted. Memory is skewed by our point of view.
Porter’s stories capture this unreliability and play with the notion of who owns memories and stories and how they’re told and re-told.
I loved this collection and didn’t want it to finish. Its characters, flawed and burdened though they were, crawled under my skin.
It’s hard to shake them.