White Light collects together sixteen of Mark O’Flynn’s short stories published between 1996 and 2012 and includes a variety of pieces ranging from the tale of an older, obese poet’s train ride to Perth to one father’s struggle on a beach to summon everyday courage.
Despite the wide range of pieces, the subdued tone of the collection is consistent and adds to the building sense of intimacy within its pages. It is a collection which focuses on discrete moments between people – rather than ‘characters’ – and their relationships to one-another. The majority of stories involve small interplays and the reader gets a sense that these stories might be happening next door, or down at the beach, or on the top floor of the office building. There’s something typically Australian about this collection and part of its appeal stems from the verisimilitude between the people in the stories and the people that populate our own lives. O’Flynn walks a very fine line in that the depictions he creates ostensibly look like us but are apart from us. In less skilled hands, the characters might be victim to uncanny disapproval. O’Flynn never takes it too far, though, and the collection stands well on the shoulders of the ordinary.
The language of White Light is another highlight. It’s subtly elevated, adding a distance between reader and character which is beneficial due to the suburban feel of the collection. Rather than boring readers with a banal suburban playbook, the language heightens the drama and takes the collection from the kitchen sink to the open stage at times. This helps to expound some of the themes of the work, such as the give and take of successful (and unsuccessful) relationships, the innocence of youth, and the everyday revelations that occur in silence. Despite the disparity in the composition of the individual pieces, O’Flynn has managed to create a synergistic experience with the White Light collection. I would recommend it with the advice to read one story at a time rather than the entire collection in one go. Like life in general the collection sprawls and reading the stories over a period of time suits it well.
Jon Scadding is a Perth-based writer, library clerk, and blogger.