A rich, often dazzling collection of short stories linked by themes while ranging widely in style from Babel-like fables to gritty noir and sci-fi.
Weil (The Great Glass Sea, 2014, etc.) says he wrote these eight stories over the course of a decade, yet they show a sustained preoccupation with light: as image, object of desire, and source of wonder, among other things. In the opening tale, “No Flies, No Folly,” a Jewish peddler in 1901 Pennsylvania Dutch country woos a farming woman with an Edison bulb in a scene of splendidly odd seduction. The peddler will return in the final tale, in which his younger self, a deserter from the Russian army, encounters a photographer who “spoke of bromides, emulsion,” but was talking “always, about only one thing: light.” Weil’s other theme is scientific progress, and the two motifs often intersect. “Long Bright Line” follows a girl’s fascination with flight and airplanes. The coming of electricity is featured in a brooding tale in which a remote town has waited decades for the miracle and then, in 1940, battles the power company that has bypassed it as being unprofitable. “Angle of Reflection” tells of youths in the early 1990s pondering life’s dangers, mean parents, and the Soviets’ "space mirror," a science-fiction–ish technology that aimed to boost productivity by lengthening the hours of daylight. While the gadget failed in real life, Weil imagines it into a not-distant future and the problems of life without real darkness, as he did extensively in The Great Glass Sea. One of three stories that refer to these mirrors is the appropriately noir “The First Bad Thing.” A woman of 20 and an older man find a physical connection, “like mountain cats tied tail to tail,” and then flee murky pasts, traveling north to Canada in the “long dusk” the mirrors have left in search of true night.
Weil’s stories are engrossing, persuasively detailed, and written with a deep affection for the way language can, in masterful hands, convey us to marvelous new worlds.