The Lightning of Possible Storms by Jonathan Ball

Jonathan Ball’s short fiction collection, The Lightning of Possible Storms, is a volume that exults in the many ways in which it confounds expectations and keeps the reader off-balance. Ball’s stories are brashly eccentric, cynical, surreal and delightfully subversive metafictions.

In a manoeuvre that one does not often encounter in volumes of short fiction, Ball employs a framing device. The dedication reads, “For Aleya, who will learn why.” But Aleya is also present in the book: we first encounter her in an untitled introductory section. She is a server in a tea house. One of the regular customers is a writer who rarely speaks to her and pointedly ignores her as he writes at his table (she doesn’t mind because he’s a generous tipper). One day she finds a book that he has left behind. The title is The Lightning of Possible Storms by Jonathan Ball, and when she flips it open, she finds the dedication: “For Aleya, who will learn why.” Thus, Aleya’s experience of reading the book and trying to figure out “why” becomes our experience as well. 

“Ball’s stories constantly surprise; they cheerfully and brazenly defy narrative convention and propel the reader into bizarre landscapes and hallucinatory states of mind.”

ian colford

The stories themselves cover a range of subjects and themes but are largely concerned with malleable perspectives and shifting realities, the struggle of the creative artist, and the lack of recognition and appreciation to which many artists must resign themselves. In “National Bestseller” a writer named Jonathan Ball decides to write a bestselling book. The story describes his bungling efforts to “dumb down” his writing in order to make it appealing to a mass audience, his push-pull relationship with his agent, and his uneasy and comical ruminations regarding how one in fact does write a bestseller. “The Best Story Ever Submitted to Your Magazine” is a fanciful missive addressed to the editor of the magazine where the writer has chosen to submit his magnificent story, which he hasn’t actually written yet. And “Explosions,” narrated in the seldom-used second-person voice, concerns an unnamed “hotshot” Hollywood producer’s embattled collaboration with an annoying and uncooperative writer named Jonathan Ball. 

Aleya makes further appearances throughout the volume, eventually becoming a character in the book she’s reading. At one point, in an interlude section between stories, Aleya pauses in her reading and thinks, “Not what she expected, these stories.” The reader will have much the same reaction. Ball’s stories constantly surprise; they cheerfully and brazenly defy narrative convention and propel the reader into bizarre landscapes and hallucinatory states of mind. Admittedly, this sort of writing is not for everyone, and it is true that several of the author’s more outlandish and hazily conceived efforts strain visibly for effect. But it is also true that reading The Lightning of Possible Storms is a genuinely bracing and exciting experience, profoundly unsettling and disorienting. Anyone who enjoys having their ass kicked by a book of fiction will not be disappointed. 

See also  Buffoon by Anosh Irani

About the author: Jonathan Ball is the author of eight books, including Ex MachinaClockfire, and The National Gallery. He lives in Winnipeg and has won many awards, including a Manitoba Book Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer. He hosts Writing the Wrong Way, the podcast for writers who strive to be bold and readers who crave something new. Visit him at www.jonathanball.com.

  • Paperback : 260 pages
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1771666138
  • ISBN-10 : 1771666137
  • Publisher : Book*hug Press (Sept. 30 2020)

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Ian Colford’s short fiction has appeared in Event, Grain, Riddle Fence, The Antigonish Review, The Fiddlehead and other literary publications. His previous books are Evidence, The Crimes of Hector Tomás, Perfect World and A Dark House and Other Stories. His work has been shortlisted for the Thomas H. Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the Relit Award, the Journey Prize, and the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. He lives in Halifax.

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buriedinprint
buriedinprint
December 2, 2020 15:41

This sounds like a delightful (if occasionally frustrating) puzzle: a collection I would enjoy. (And I like the way you end your review, the select adjectives in the second-last sentence and the final one made me laugh.)

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