Book Review: Black Light by Kimberly King Parsons

August 10, 2020


Black Light: Stories, Kimberly King Parsons

Atlantic Books, 2020

Short stories 

I see the merit in Black Light though these short stories weren’t my cup of tea. Parsons writes flawed, sometimes grotesque yet mundane characters who share their neuroses, desires and ugliness with us, often through first person narratives. Many of the characters are young adults or children with weird interests and secret desires. There is undoubtedly a darkness to all of these stories; they are unsettling. There are drugs, imperfect mothers and lesbian desire. Violence, cruelty and dysfunction bubble under the surface.

The reader doesn’t come to understand the situation, circumstances or relationships in each story until halfway through; Parsons drip-feeds details to us - always through implication rather than direct language - making the reader work a little. There were several moments where I wondered how readers with English as a second-language might fare with these stories because the language is far from literal. Parsons instead taps into Texan colloquialisms and modern patterns of speech rather than a traditional writing style, which gives the collection a contemporary and experimental feel. However, as a reader who prefers short stories with precise and purposeful language, like in Raymond Carver’s Short Cuts or Samanta Schweblin’s Mouthful of Birds, Parsons’s Black Light wasn’t for me.

Many of the stories in Black Light end abruptly. I enjoy stories that refuse closure but reading Black Light I often felt taken aback and frustrated by the lack of message or point to these stories. Whilst I appreciate the importance of portraying flawed characters and mundane life – both of which I usually enjoy – I wanted these stories to do more, particularly around themes such as body image issues and mental illness which are portrayed uncomfortably. It’s difficult to detect whether there was an underlying socio-political critique or a philosophical message to the exploration of these themes, which was a turn-off for me.

Whilst Black Light was disappointing for me, I can see that it will be an enjoyable and interesting read for some readers who like quirky, dark and gritty short stories and I can understand many of the positive reviews this collection has gained. The Goodreads book description (copied below) is particularly accurate and so I recommend reading this to understand whether this collection is for you. But if your reading tastes are similar to mine (precise language, profound messages and space for marginalised voices) maybe spend your time on a different collection.

2.5/5


Thank you to Atlantic Books and Netgalley for the Advanced Reader Copy (ebook). Black Light is out now - click here to buy.

Book description taken from Goodreads:

With raw, poetic ferocity, Kimberly King Parsons exposes desire’s darkest hollows—those hidden places where most of us are afraid to look. In this debut collection of enormously perceptive and brutally unsentimental short stories, Parsons illuminates the ache of first love, the banality of self-loathing, the scourge of addiction, the myth of marriage, and the magic and inevitable disillusionment of childhood.

Taking us from hot Texas highways to cold family kitchens, from the freedom of pay-by-the-hour motels to the claustrophobia of private school dorms, these stories erupt off the page with a primal howl—sharp-voiced, bitter, and wise. Black Light contains the type of storytelling that resonates somewhere deep, in the well of memory that repudiates nostalgia.


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