In This Light: New and Selected Stories
In This Light, Melanie Rae Thon’s collection of beautifully written new and selected stories, is a gift from a very talented writer. In This Light includes stories from her previous collections Girls in the Grass (1991) and First, Body (1997), as well as three new stories. The various themes and narrators of this body of work fit well together to form a cohesive collection.
What is most striking about Ms. Thon’s short stories is her voice; her lyrical prose and remarkable ability to capture the voices of others is impressive. Ms. Thon masterfully constructs images that perfectly reflect her different narrators’ language and environments.
For instance, in the story, “First, Body,” Ms. Thon’s third-person narrator describes a traumatized veteran who works in an emergency room: “Sid Ellliott had been working Emergency eight months and it amazed him every time. Slicing through denim and leather, they peeled men open faster than Sid’s father flayed rabbits.” Her violent, tactile images aptly reflect the scene and characters of this story.
In one of her new stories, “Confession for Raymond Good Bird,” Ms. Thon employs imagery from the natural world to reflect the American Indian characters and Western terrain of her tale. She writes: “In a dream, I’m swimming after her, and I can’t breathe, and I’m so cold I’m cold forever, but I don’t care an otter: Arla is blue and green, beautiful as ice and water, and I think I can see—but I can’t see—straight through her.” And later the narrator muses, “ We don’t have a choice: things you know but don’t use eat you inside out, starved weasels biting hard, furious in your belly.”
Author Thon’s exquisite imagery and lyrical language read like poetry. In her new story “ Tu B’Shvat: For the Drowned and the Saved,” the narrator, Margalit, describes her daughter Davia’s piano playing: “But the next morning, the trill of the piano woke me, Davia running her fingers up the keys—a ripple of light, the body becoming light, blood clear as rain—then down to the lowest notes, the mind a waterfall plunging.”
In This Light comprises many diverse voices and settings, including both first and third person narrators from all walks of life and from different parts of the United States. The story, “Punishment,” narrated by Selina, the daughter of a slave owner, recounts the tragedy of her family’s slave Lize, who was hanged for the murder of her master’s son. Lize also narrates parts of the story. The tale and the voices of Selina and Lize are utterly believable and never lapse into cliché.
Many of Ms. Thon’s stories in this collection are narrated by or about the dispossessed, specifically, the poor, runaways, substance abusers, girls from broken homes, motherless girls, and girls and women who are at risk. Thon gives voices to these characters in such stories as “Nobody’s Daughters,” “First, Body,” ”Father, Lover, Deadman, Dreamer,” “Necessary Angels,” and “Heavenly Creatures: for wandering children and their delinquent mother.” Ms. Thon’s ability to give voices to these characters and to sympathetically, graphically, and yet, gracefully illustrate their lives is remarkable.
The only flaw in this collection, which probably is not so much a fault as a matter of personal taste, is that there are a few too many stories about abused and troubled girls. Some of the stories seem repetitive and feel relentless. But despite some of the disturbing subject matter, In This Light is an exceptionally well-written, honest work by a very talented, insightful writer.