P D Dawson
Darker with the Lights On by David Hayden (Book Review)
David Hayden’s debut book of short stories opens with, ‘Egress’, in which a man steps out of an office window and starts to fall, without ever reaching the fast-approaching ground. The second story, ’The Auctioneer’, initially feels like a more traditional story, as if Hayden is holding back his more eccentric side for later, however one of the things auctioned off in the story turns out to be a little scatological in nature, something which comes as a surprise. There is mention of excrement, as description or literal, in other stories too, so perhaps there is some allegorical meaning there.
In, ‘The Bread That Was Broken’, we have a supper party for invited guests only, but once again there is a twist to the story, as four men in white shirts walk in with the body of a man and place him on a platter, and the strange odour the guests smell in the air of ‘scorched wool, bad fat, warm urine, and excrement’, is from this black and smoking corpse. Once again there is that darkness within the light, but there is no disgust in the guests, and that is where the story truly disturbs. In another story we have a man that joins a youth on a bench and tells him that he believes the afterlife is made out of a world based upon your last read book, and we also have a story with a talking squirrel, but there are many others stories, which upon first reading, almost defy description altogether, and for now, I shall refrain from doing so here.
This kind of rebellion against the standard narrative of the short story has the power to inspire writers and to push the limits of what a story can be. Hayden pushes the depth of his narrative, the way Proust, among others, used stream of consciousness to revolutionise their prose. However, Hayden’s writing feels like an evolution from that, a more considered stream, an intellectual bombardment that flows in the same manner as a stream of consciousness, yet somehow produces the equivalent of modern art in prose.
I’m sure Hayden has embedded allegorical meaning into these stories, and after endless rereading and studying, I’m sure these will come out, the way Joyce and Beckett only opens up after meticulous study. But whether or not this is the case, I have to say that Darker with the Lights On is a perfect title for this collection. These stories are aglow with richly detailed and improbably varied prose and inventions of a very active and fertile imagination, yet they also seem to defy meaning and keep us a little in the dark. And so I felt upon finishing the book, that it wasn't done with me, for it somehow draws you back in, as these stories require time and space in which to live and breathe.
David Hayden is an exciting and tremendously inventive author, and here he has managed to produce a collection of short stories unlike any other, and for writers as well, like myself, it emboldens the idea that the short story, or the novel for that matter, really has no limits. Every short story fan should have this in their collection.
You can find out more about this book, its author and its publisher here Little Island Press