If your preferred reading place and time is in bed before sleep, you may need to develop new habits for Ben Pester’s debut collection Am I in the Right Place? Seemingly ordinary settings (a café; an office) twitch with unreliable edges that threaten to upend into the unknown. Cupboards open into other worlds, and roads lead to versions of memories that encroach on the present in unexpected ways.
We open with a character waiting to meet his ageing father, and then spooling into a journey where anxiety lingers with such a palpable presence it almost takes on human form.
Later in the collection, in ‘Low Energy Meeting’ a line manager introduces us to the embodiment of his love, a sorrowful figure in a dingy dressing gown.
Emotions here have powers to shift our surroundings, making every step uncertain. What was floor moments ago could now be a hole with an insatiable appetite.
Some pages, dyed black from corner to corner, abandon us to our rattled thoughts only quieted by the rustle of us scrabbling to get to the next printed words.
FJ Morris has a unique way of viewing the world that feeds into every piece of fiction she writes. Loosely using the theme of David Bowie as a connecting point, the stories in her debut flash fiction collection examine the magic of our human contradictions in glittering, meteor showers of prose.
Morris’ vivid turns of phrase bring scenes into focus – puddles ‘pop’ with rain, bodies can become rubble, and confessions are preceded by “the deepest of breaths, for the deepest of dives.”
There’s a sense of unearthing ancient fables through her tales, as even the most unexpected imagery is presented with such innate confidence in us readers to digest it that it seems at once commonplace and utterly peculiar. That’s a skill many writers fail to master in a lifetime – akin to achieving the ability to harness a trick of the light.
Morris’ sideways glance at the world equips her to embrace huge themes in a way that helps you see them anew. She tackles grief via the motion of a freshly vacated swing, and explores on questions about gender, sexuality and more in a way that invites strange flavours onto your tongue and unfamiliar textures under your bare feet.