I think it is stories in which places and people are equally powerful – whether in a positive, growth-full sense, or a negative, destructive one – that I find most satisfying. In Joshua Jones’ debut short story collection Local Fires, the place is Llanelli, described as “a town buried under the weight of its own past”, and the people are its inhabitants: as varied a selection of folk as ever there were, but all of them, in some way, suffering from that ‘weight’, whether they are people who were born there or people who’ve drifted in.
Once, a character states, “Llanelli was alive,” and this is the point throughout: the town is no longer alive. It is, in a sense, a kind of coffin, with all who live in it somehow entombed. Despite this sombre intimation, the voices in this collection are vibrant; the scenarios, whilst they may be drawn from real lives and experiences, are imaginative.
Jones is a writer who can inhabit the voice of any person of any age from any background, it seems, and the characters are well-rounded and believable; in fact, we’re immersed into their worlds, their viewpoints, with consummate ease. He can as easily take on the character of a women about to enter into her fourth marriage as a person who is queer and trans, feeling as if they are “between bodies”. Jones adopts the Irvine Welsh-style dash when marking out speech (as opposed to using inverted commas) – which, stylistically, marks the writing out as both edgy and uncluttered – but the empathy for his characters is Jones’ great achievement and gives Local Fires remarkable depth.
For a debut, then, it;s assured, wide-ranging, unafraid, and sympathetic to people’s plights. Place looms large, directing and affecting, constricting and curtailing, and is, perhaps, the true master in these deft, defiant stories that are also truly thoughtful, entirely original, and wonderfully compelling.
Local Fires, Joshua Jones (Parthian)
Price: £10. Info: here
words MAB JONES