The Lightning of Possible Storms
Jonathan Ball, 209 pgs, Book*hug Press, bookhugpress.ca, $20
Imagine an author dedicates his novel to you and leaves a copy at your workplace to read, but you have no personal connection to them whatsoever. What do you do?
Aleya faces precisely this situation in the prologue of Ball’s collection, setting up the premise for the stories to come. The reader follows Aleya recounting the strange encounters that follow, and roils alongside her through each of the stories written in her honour. As she delves deeper, the line between reality and fantasy begins to blur, and Aleya starts to question her own consciousness.
Aleya’s storyline is interspersed among a collection of short stories, many of which trade in bleak tropes of futurity akin to Black Mirror. “Judith” ventures into a world where machines accurately foretell the specifics of your demise. “Costa Rican Green” begins as an unassuming travel story, but quickly escalates, reveal- ing the fragility of our outward happiness. In “The Nightmare Ballad”, a father with nothing left to lose spirals into a devastating path of destruction.
Like many short story collections, there are hits and misses, but Ball’s beautifully written prose is a highlight throughout. In “The Palace of Ice,” for instance, he captures the spiritual agony of a landscape: “The desert cannot reach her here. It sits impotent, still, silent, outside her walls. Trapped there, trapped outside, in an endless expanse. Defeated, dreaming its own dreams, of water.”
Ball’s interwoven stories create an immersive yet dizzying experience. The result is more often disjointed than interlocking, and the author’s intent isn’t clear to me. Even the central story of Aleya, while conceptually compelling, disappoints, becoming overly convoluted before its unsatisfying end. While confusing at times, the stories in and of themselves more than makeup for this, and are bound to stick with you.