Meaning it’s looking a little bleak, a bit like rain “it’s gone dark over Bill’s mother’s” is an old potters’ phrase that aptly describes Lisa Blower’s short story collection of working-class fiction. Often quiet, often elusive, It’s Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s teases out forgotten voices from those living on the margins. Hardship and deprivation seep in like rain clouds, sometimes a lingering presence, a friction not quite there but just over the horizon, while elsewhere it’s more like a pressure cooker, bubbling tension clamped down by a familiar British stoicism until it’s fit to burst.
Often, Blower takes aim at the small crises, like the standoff between Thea and Roxanne in The Cherry Tree. The tree is in Roxanne’s garden, but the cherries overhang Thea’s, the ensuing clash over just-who-exactly-those-cherries-belong-to culminating with Thea blockaded in her own house, hemmed by a veritable congregation of raised voices behind her door. There’s an element of farce here that raises a smile, but shot through with Blower’s honesty of voice and drill-like precision into her characters’ heads, rendering it an emotional weight innate to the stories throughout. But amongst the hardship there’s hope and heart too, storm-weatherers who make the most of what they have, familial bonds that as much as they break show a warming resilience – itself a driving theme across the collection, between partings, chance-meetings, falling-outs and coming-togethers.
What’s especially good about It’s Gone Dark however is the range of voices it manages to fit within its pages, “dominated by the working-class matriarch” as it is, Blower makes space for their daughters too, muddling through adolescence under often belligerent parents and a carry-on of family dramas. Each story is freshly done, sometimes playing with style and form in newly creative ways, interchanging points-of-views (from first, to second, to third), or stripping back setting to its abstracted essentials. Like the breathless Pot Luck, told through the replies alone of a Northern café owner serving bacon butties to endless stream of characters that pass through her doors. Or the delightfully surreal exchange in Happenstance between two barflies who never quite seem to articulate what they’re both trying to say.
Already assembling a number of award-winning stand-alone stories (from The Guardian National Short Story Award to the Bridport Prize) and described as Kit De Waal as “to die for”, there’s something profound about seeing Blower’s work together and thriving within a single volume – itself a thumping advocation for publishing more of the under-represented voices it seeks to capture.
It’s Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s by Lisa Blower is out now from Myriad Editions (9781912408160, p/b, £8.99)